Posts Tagged With: fell race

Stumbling through the Fat Boys Stanage Struggle Fell Race

Let’s play scruples.  Should you let the truth get in the way of a good story?  Tough one for me.  Also a continuum, as, without venturing into territory more suited to ‘Thought for the day’ or worse still ‘The Moral Maze’, I don’t believe there is such a thing as an absolute objective truth.  It’s very nuanced, it all depends on context, point of view and the extent to which being constrained by accepted conventions of ‘truth’ will spoil an otherwise perfectly good anecdote.  Your call.

So, bearing this in mind, did you know that the Peak District is the second-most visited national park in the world after Mount Fuji?  No, me neither. This was the helpful fact with which one of the marshals greeted me on arrival at the school playground of Hathersage Saint Michael’s Primary School.  It is this kind of commitment to friendly and informative customer care that torpedoes the Fat Boys Stanage Struggle Fell Race to one of my favourite runs of the year.  Top tip for organising committees elsewhere I feel.   When you are evaluating your event afterwards, as well as counting out all the money and laughing at the photos, ask yourself whether you paid enough attention to providing titbits of tourist information to your race participants.  You might be missing a trick.  Why not postcards for sale as well next year?  Even a special post box and sorting office stamp, like they have in Lapland, so runners can write ‘wish you were here’ messages and post them out to prove they were there, part of an occassion bigger than themselves, that kind of thing.  (I think they do in Lapland, I’ve never been, but they must do, surely?)

So, this post is all about The Fat Boys Stanage Struggle Fell Race.  This was always going to have a certain appeal to me, call me shallow (if not svelte) but I am massively encouraged to see that there is an event being organised by a running club that goes by the name of ‘Fat Boys Running Club’.  It does suggest a broadly (pun intended) inclusive approach to the delivery of a fell race.  This could be one for me!  Here is the picture of the course.  Looking at this picture, I was quite taken with those lovely flat, green, fields in the foreground, and maybe didn’t pay quite enough attention to Stanage Edge way, way ahead high up on the horizon.  Oh well, I’d never enter these things if I was able to fully comprehend what I was about to take on, and just think what I’d have missed out on!  Heaven portend!


Oh hang on, I’m jumping ahead of myself.  For those of you too daunted by the cutting edge technology that is the interweb to google it for yourself, the blah de blah on the Stanage Struggle website describes the event as follows:

The Fat Boys Stanage Struggle passes through beautiful Peak District countryside  beginning in the village of Hathersage the route progresses via track, grass, path and moorland up onto Stanage Edge, out to High Neb, with a quick downhill return leg on very runnable ground back to the village.

The Struggle is, despite its name, a very accessible race.

It provides a serious challenge for the swifter runners attracting top names capable of fast times – whilst the varied terrain ensures that everyone can excel at some stage of the race. Road runners and other fell race virgins often use The Fat Boys Stanage Struggle as their introduction to fell racing.

The first mile is on easy track with open gates  ensuring that the field spreads out quickly enabling faster competitors a trouble free start. The complete route is signed and marshalled throughout by Fat Boys – with additional support from St John Ambulance and the Edale Mountain Rescue Team.

The Fat Boys aim to provide a friendly and supportive atmosphere from registration through to prizegiving. Registration is on the day, turn up and run.

The Fat Boys Stanage Struggle is based at the village school/school field.

  • The field is well signposted and easily visible from the main road.
  • Free car parking is available in the field adjacent to the start/finish.
  • Registration, changing and toilets are undercover.
  • Refreshments

The Fat Boys Stanage Struggle has, since it’s inception, been sponsored by Outside of Hathersage.
Prize winners are able to redeem their prize vouchers for a range of high quality outdoor equipment at any of the Outside shops on the day or at a later time.

All competitors receive one Free bottle of water at the finish

So if that’s all you want to know about the event, go away.  What follows is my subjective account of taking part in the Stanage Struggle,  which I fully appreciate may be niche interest only.

So, the day dawned.  Autumnal I’d say.  Thick ghostly mists gathering in the dips in the landscape, and a deep wet dew on all available grass.  Really gorgeous though.  Driving over to Hathersage from Sheffield the Peak District was jaw droppingly beautiful.  I can’t believe I’ve got this landscape on my doorstep.  If nothing else, local trail and fell races motivate me to go out and make the most of it.  Just look (photo stolen from fellow Smiley, for which I thank you).


So, as ever, I arrived incredibly early as I wasn’t too sure about the parking options.  I didn’t fancy the steeply sloping grassy field option (only accessible by 4×4 if wet) – I’m still not entirely convinced an automatic car gives you the same control as a manual –  and thought I’d try my luck at Hathersage Business Park, which was offering ‘limited parking’ instead.  I’ve never noticed this Business Park before, and I don’t know why as it’s well signposted and huge, right at the entrance of the village.  I lost my nerve a little on my way in, as the entrance is extremely grand and, although I’d like to think I could become accustomed to this sort of gateway in time, it is not a scale of living to which I was born.  Fortunately there was a pro parker on hand from Totley AC I think (hello).  He pointed me in the right direction, and what’s more, spotting my Smiley Vest (which opens more doors than casual observation might indicate), gave me the top tip of availing myself of the hard standing which was still available.  I was relieved about this, didn’t fancy slaloming down a wet field on exit.  I felt like a celebrity being waved through in this way, get me and my running club contacts eh?  As I left the business park (on foot) there was a large sign saying you had to leave by 2.00pm.  Leave by two?  In the afternoon?  Please gawd I’d be done and dusted by then.  It’s a 10k route starting at 11.00 a.m. afterall…

From there just a short walk round the corner to the magical wonderland that was the Primary School registration point for the fell race.  It is simply gorgeous, like the kind of school that exists only in fairy tales with pretty roses in adjacent gardens, lovely stone buildings and rainbow painted benches in the playground.


There was also plenty of helpful signage.  Though I did waver a bit seeing that the organisers had carefully differentiated between the certain-to-be enjoyable ‘fun run’ and the ‘senior race’.  The senior race presumably wasn’t expected to be any fun at all if that missing adjective was anything to go by…


Following the signs, you go through a doorway to a wonderland, a bit like Mr Ben going into the  changing rooms of the fancy dress hire shop.  You enter a non participant, a nobody if you will, and then emerge a signed up fell runner.   Hurrah!  You do the filling in your details on a form first bit, none of the pens left out for this purpose worked, but I found a pencil that did.  Obviously, I left the dried up biros on the table anyway as a test of commitment for the other potential participants who would be coming in my wake.  Some of the questions were routine, though I don’t recall being asked for blood group as well as next of kin before.   You then hand it over to a gang of four, who were very jolly, and said ‘you’re the first one!’  They didn’t mean I was going to win it turned out, only that I was the first Smiley of the day.  I think there must be an I-Spy book of Sheffield Running Clubs that they were working through together or something.  Then I got my number and that was it, job done (apart from the running bit).

So, because I was early, there was time to explore.  I found the changing rooms (no Laurence Llewelyn Bowen though, so that was a relief).

The huts which had the loos and the changing area were absolutely sweet.  This was very much a children’s space.  Individually named pegs, colourful bags and hanging mobiles (not mobile phones, actual mobiles) and inspiring words and painted pictures in evidence everywhere on the walls and hanging from the ceiling.  There is something wondrous about being confronted with such positivity, optimism, hope and simple joie de vivre made manifest through finger paintings.  If only it were possible to re-enter such a world again when an adult.  To be able  return to a time before innocence has been crushed by experiences of life that inevitably vanquish all traces of joy.  Creativity shrivels and dies as the vortex of exams and assessment suck you up and then spit you out onto the treadmill of working life.  It won’t be long before the inhabitants of this enchanted worldtoo come to  encounter existential angst, disillusion and despair.  They will come to scream into the winds raving at the futility of existence and the meaninglessness of life compelled to stare endlessly into the void.  (Well, I can only speak as I find).  That time, it seems has not yet come however.  Yay!  A little oasis of delight in a cruel and hostile world.  How lovely.

In a way, it was a sort of metaphor for the forthcoming fell race.  From afar, the hills look covered in sunshine, inviting and glorious, you can’t wait to get stuck in… the reality is the Stanage Struggle is called a ‘struggle’ for a reason.  Work it out.  Go on, I dare you…  You plough on through it (as with life) wondering if this horror will ever end, and how you could have been so naive as to have wished this experience on yourself, the hope is that on conclusion of the endeavour you will at least look back and laugh. Misguided nostalgia is another wonderful (if misleading) thing.  Well, here’s hoping anyway.

So, cheered by this vision of wide-eyed joyfulness, I skipped over to the playground and encountered  the next set of officials.  This included the guy from tourist information who explained about the Peak District being the second most visited national park after Mount Fuji.  I subsequently found out this might not be strictly true, but wonder if I just misheard him?  What he probably actually said, is that the Fat Boys Stanage Struggle route was the second highest and steepest ascent in the world after Mount Fuji.  I think that must be it.  I’ve googled endlessly, heavens, even consulted Wikipedia, and absolutely nowhere is this claim refuted or rebutted ergo it must be true.  My legs don’t lie.


I also took the opportunity to grill the welcoming committee about the course – even though having parted with my fiver I was already committed to taking part.  One asked if it was me who’d emailed to ask about it earlier in the week.   This confused me ‘erm, I really don’t know‘ I said.  Which was stupid, as I think I would have remembered.  This led to a comical interaction where I over-compensated for my discombobulation (just wanted to get that word in really – wonder if spell check will be able to cope) by explaining that I wasn’t in the habit of firing off so many emails on diverse subjects to random and unknown men that I couldn’t be expected to recall with whom I’d been recently corresponding.  I think I got away with it.  It wasn’t me who’d been asking if it was indeed an entry-level race.  I explained how I’d given up contacting organisers in advance, as they were invariably encouraging having leapt to a wildly optimistic, if misguided, assessment of my abilities based (presumably) on my spelling and punctuation within said emails.  I wasn’t aware of any obvious correlation between spelling and running ability but there must be I suppose, otherwise how would run organisers be able to advise people on their fitness to participate based only on written exchanges?  I know, it’s a complete mystery.

Anyway, they assured me the course was ‘a good honest fell race’ (not like those lying, dishonest, disreputable fell races you get elsewhere presumably), and fine as an entry-level attempt.  To be fair, they were very positive and encouraging, and I even began to harbour an aspiration (if not actual belief) that I might try to not come last at this event, now that would be something!  I went for a bit more of an explore.  This included counting out the mountain rescue vehicles (rather a lot – should I be worried) and St John’s ambulance (also more in attendance than I’d normally expect).  I also took some scenic shots of the surrounding fields, I was going for a ‘sheep in the morning mist’ effect, not entirely succesful.  Plus, I took the precaution of photographing the finish funnel in case I never did get to see it.  Also, I hoped it would fix it in my mind’s eye, so if my legs and steering were to give way at the end, I’d still be able to find it just in case one of the Brownlee Brothers wasn’t on hand to carry me over the line.  Gorgeous venue, despite the alarmingly conspicuous presence of emergency staff and vehicles.

So once I’d done the equivalent of scent marking everywhere (I mean by taking photos, what did you think I meant?) I found an old gym bench by the side of the playground in a sunny spot, and took the chance to catch up with a friend on my mobile.  We had a good old natter and only fell out later.  Apparently, I pocket rang her mid-morning, didn’t leave a message and she was – and I quote ‘really worried you’d collapsed out on the fell, or were in an ambulance or something unable to speak‘.  Now, you might think I’d be touched by that level of concern, and to be honest, I would have been, had she not left it until about 9 hours later to call me back to check I was OK!  What kind of a friend is that?  Frankly, if I was the sort of person who reliably sent Christmas cards, that sort of thoughtlessness would be enough to get her struck off my Winterval card list!  In fact, I’ve a good mind to start sending them out this year just so I can slight her by leaving her out.

Phone call finished, I started to play my own game of I-spy Smileys, and I’m pleased to report there were a few about.  I even got myself snapped alongside two which was a rare treat.  Poor guy we accosted to take the photo was already trapped in one spot as another runner was leaning on his shoulder whilst doing some warm-up stretches.  As he was standing around anyway, we thought he might welcome the chance to do a bit of multi-tasking to stop him getting bored.  He did OK I think, maybe not got the memo about directing runners like me to stand in the most flattering possible stances, but apart from that, he did us a good deed.

I got waylaid by another Smiley when I was en route to the loo for my precautionary pee.  Unusually for me I cut this rather fine.  I was last in the queue, and by the time I came out of the cubicles, there were no other runners in sight!  The junior fun runners were all lined up ready to charge out of the school gates and no seniors to be seen.  Who knew the start was back down through the village?  Uh oh.  The marshal for the fun run held up the juniors and let me sprint past – though on reflection, maybe I should have just joined in with  them. Instead,  I ran on past the Hathersage Business Park and then spotted the queue of runners at the start line just off the main road to the right.  Honestly,  I think that sprint was the fastest I ran all day, I was in such a panic at being left behind!  I arrived just in time to join the line up for another Smiley Paces photo, even if I did look a bit like the fat bridesmaid in the wedding shots.  Still, nice to be included in this, I often miss out because I finish too long after everyone else at the end of races and am not always bold enough to photo bomb these start shots.  This is thus a relatively rare group photo.  Yay, go us!

I was breathless and confused.  My new Smiley friends were asking after hobbit buddy. Where was she?  I had no idea who they were talking about.  They jogged my memory.  You know  – she who had posted on facebook that we would be coming together, she of my DVD workout project, she my loyal hobbit hash buddy and training companion for the past year.  I was so ashamed.  The thing is though, we were supposed to be doing the Stanage Struggle together but then carelessly, she allowed her foot to disintegrate or something so pain meant she couldn’t come.  I am now a ‘committed athlete’ because I wear runderwear.  This means I can’t allow anything to impede my performance in competition.  As soon as she had told me she was having to pull out, she had my sympathy of course, but she was also then dead to me (only for the duration of the event, not properly dead, that would be awful).  It’s what she would want.  I needed to focus.  It’s hard to explain unless you’ve been there.  Also, I was feeling panicked and under pressure what with being late and everything, and breathing so hard my brain wouldn’t work.   All that running and puffing had depleted my brain of oxygen and I woudn’t have been able to state my own name at this point in time, let alone converse about another runner.   Not an ideal start to the business of running up a fell to be honest, but you have to work with what you’ve got.

Almost immediately, we were off.  It is indeed a lovely start, you go through green fields, with marshals on each of the many gates to cheer you past and keep them open as we all surged through.  There were just over 300 runners in all, and we streamed out quite quickly.  I was aware of being constantly over-taken, but not quite last so that was a novelty.  In brilliant sunshine it was a colourful sight.  There were lots of spectators relatively speaking and a friendly and encouraging ambience too.  Thanks to Eleanor and Robert Scriven for these fab photos of the early stages of the run, before it got hilly!

Although it was flat, relatively early on I wasn’t feeling great.  I’m slow and steady normally, but don’t ever think I won’t get round, but today was a bit different, my legs felt quite crampy.  Whether that was the sprint to the start or (sounds unlikely alert) because I’d actually accidentally run five days out of the six previous ones I know not.  It was hot, and the sun beat down on my head.  For the first time ever I wondered if I might be a DNF.  That would never do!  I dug deep, remembered what I’d heard a five-year old shouting at their mum at parkrun the day before ‘come on, unleash your titan‘ (no I really did!), and focused on just getting round by putting one foot in front of another.  Which to be fair, at the end of the day is all that running is.

It was lovely countryside, but not without its hazards.  Early on, there was a stampede of sheep across the track that brought me and some of the other runners towards the back to a standstill as we waited for them to complete their descent down the hill.  Hope we hadn’t spooked them too much.  Then, as the field of runners thinned out, the ascent began.  It was quite a heave-ho onwards and upwards, with a bit of negotiating to be done with walkers and dogs etc coming in the other direction.  The gentle gradient gave way to steeper steps, and disappointingly, well-behaved walkers insisted on giving way to ‘you runners’ so there was some pressure to keep up outward appearances of giving it a go up them there hills.   We ran past an amazing old building which according to the sign was I think Norton Lees Hall, which may or may not be the basis of the house from which Mr Rochester’s wife jumped to her death in Jane Eyre.  I’m a bit dubious about tourist information these days, and I didn’t have the time to nip in and ask.  Plausible though, an amazing looking place.

Shortly after this, a bit of wood, and then the climb up ‘proper’.  At this point it slowly dawned on me we were going to be expected to go right up to the top!  The path was pretty crowded.  Various people carrying bikes (not the point surely), a couple gazing at each other, sat on a large boulder just off the path in a yoga lotus pose.   Whatever quiet meditation and contemplation they were engaged in, I hope it didn’t involve listening to their own breathing.  My loud puffing alongside would have been very distracting at least and disconcerting at worst.   Hardly restful.  Some people were lumbering upwards with mattresses strapped to their backs.  Now that was a good idea, I’ve always felt a fell run would be improved with the option for a bit of a lie down in comfort once you got to the highest point.  If the pictures are anything to go by it wasn’t only me struggling on the way up though (thanks Sue-Nigel Jeff for this one)


It was something of a scramble in parts, and although I was in sight of one or two runners, the majority of the field was streaming across the tops.  Bracken was towering over my head and I was feeling the pressure of negotiating walkers, climbers and a couple of fabulously fast dogs that came careering own the narrow paths at torpedo-like speeds.  A bit un-nerving to be truthful, I was worried the dogs would take me out, and if not me, the runners behind, who I figured must be potentially fragile if even I had managed to outpace them.  Everyone I met en route was friendly and encouraging though.  A few clapped furiously, some acknowledged the Smiley vest.  I wasn’t sure if they were connected with Smiley Paces, or just appreciated the comic sans logo.  Still, all well wishing gratefully received.  It never ceases to amaze me just how nice most people are.  ‘You’re doing great‘ they’d shout, which was not strictly true, they must have been silently adding ‘considering’ at the end of that.  Not just the marshals, but others out and about shouting support and giving cheery waves.  Maybe I’m inspirational!

I had the same thing years ago, when I was in a five a side football team.  We were terrible.  We’d been lent kit by the Nuneaton Borough Ladies Football team due to friend of a friend, but were so clueless we quite literally were playing at a tournament when the referee had to stop the game to tell us which way we were supposed to be scoring.  I was in a cubicle in the ladies loos and overheard a captain from one team say to the captain of another ‘have you seen the Coventry and Warwickshire ladies team?’.  ‘Yes.’ replied the invisible other.  Then there was a long pause and one ventured to the approval of the other…  ‘Aren’t they brave‘.  We were absolutely annihilated out there, but played on.  Making it to the semi-finals due to another team no-showing.   Maybe it’s the same syndrome.  It seems impossible that I’d even give it a go from the look in my face, so fair play to me for trying perhaps? By the way, is it really obvious our kit didn’t fit do you think?  We look like toddlers in dressing up clothes, which coincidentally is pretty much how we looked when we playing as well.


Back to the fells!  Eventually, I found myself at the top of Stanage Edge.  Phew.  That was some clamber at the last bit.  Some late addition photos from Alan Billington capture the challenge of ‘summitting’ (I still don’t think that’s a real word).  Amazing view, shame I was clinging to the rock face too much to risk letting go and turning round to take it all in!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Almost immediately, my progress was thwarted by a large crocodile of youthful looking DoE walkers with an accompanying adult at the back.  Seeing my dilemma, he shouted down the line ‘stand aside runner coming through‘ I clarified ‘I’m not really running all that much to be quite honest‘.  He shouted down an amendment ‘ambler coming through!’  I picked my way through, and carried on. It was a lot further along the ridge than I’d expected.  It is lovely though, the views are extraordinary, and I made a mental note that I should try to come back some time when I was not compelled to do so much running.    I could see the faster runners descending at speed down the crag side, and little  blobs of fluorescent yellow and green snaking across the road where a mountain rescue vehicle was on hand to supervise.  There weren’t any marshals for most of this, but there was one handily positioned where you dive down from Stanage Edge along what seemed to be a stream bed of sorts, not really a ‘proper’ path as such.  It was more of a scramble than I’d expected, and I just picked my way down really carefully, I didn’t want to come a cropper. I know faster runners do fly down, but how I just can’t comprehend.  I descended into the bracken, and again, was a bit unsure if I was going the right way, until I saw a photographer pop up from the undergrowth.  He took some great shots, think it was Phil Sproson.   Thank you!  He did take one of me, but it didn’t make the cut.  Just as well, I’m pretty sure my nose was running by this point, my legs weren’t and I looked like a weeble wobbling through a weary descent.  Not really the poster girl look on this occasion.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I wondered vaguely if I had gone off piste at one point at least – wished I’d had GPS tracking so I could be picked off crevasse like guy who did the Alps Ultra, and ended up having a vehicle come and collect him complete with medic. In the event, I emerged from the bracken to a style, where there was a little huddle of people to direct me right, and along another flat track alongside wood. It was a relief to get some shade.  There was apparently a photographer as well, but I didn’t spot them, or I’d have pretended that I’d been running a bit more continuously than this photo suggests!  I quite like it though, thoughtful, just contemplating racecraft and pacing myself!  You can compare and contrast my approach with that of my fellow compatriot runners.  Always rushing aren’t they?  Sometimes it’s good to pause and smell the roses along the way!  Thank you Peak District Fell Races for sharing these pictures, not sure who is the photographer I should credit.

As I headed alongside the wood, there were some walkers carefully securing the attention of their rather boisterous spaniel Dotty with proffered treats.  She sat obediently, gazing up at them with rapt attention.  They gave her a treat just as I ran past, and seizing her moment she gulped the reward and then newly energised launched herself round me with much bouncy enthusiasm.  Dotty’s owners were mortified, they were trying so hard.  I had to stop, though I didn’t really mind, I could see they were doing their best, and the dog was uber-friendly and having a lovely time, just wanting to join in all the fun, which is fair enough.

I walked by whilst they wrestled with their delighted dog, and then picked up a run again.  I emerged at a carparky bit I sort of half recognised.  There was a marshal frantically waving, but I got confused.  ‘Please don’t make me go back and do it again!’ I pleaded.  It was OK, he was just pointing me down the road.  After a couple of hundred yards, more marshals, and they sent me off right, back across fields and styles for the final couple of miles home.  It was one of these styles that got the better  of one of my Smiley compatriots.   She like me thought the Stanage Struggle, was actually the Stanage Stumble I think and took it rather literally going head first over one of them.  Oh well, she was still fourth woman home (her category) go her!

The end bit was a bit twisty through wood, fields and one particularly impressive bit of bog.  As it was near the end, I decided to just plough straight on through it, as I hadn’t really got my feet wet up to this point.  This maybe wasn’t the best idea as the boggy bit came over my knees.  Also, during the drive home I came to realise the over-powering smell of slurry in the car wasn’t from fertiliser outside, but was from me.  My slurry-soaked feet to be precise.  Oh well, it’s not a fell race if you don’t get covered in something organic and wet!


From there, I think it was pretty well-marshaled.  I lost my nerve on the route a couple of times, pausing to check out where the next markers were, but it was always pretty clear after a quick peak round.  After a bit we returned to the series of fields we’d run across on the way out.  There were lots of marshals here.  At the start of each field they’d say ‘nearly home now!’  I don’t wish to be ungracious, but that wasn’t strictly true for all of them.  I greatly appreciated the marshal who said instead ‘have you been told you’re nearly home yet?’  ‘Yes,’ I said, ‘but I’m not convinced‘.  ‘Well‘, he replied ‘you are nearer the finish than when the last marshal told you that.’ This was indeed a cheery thought.  Well said!  Eventually, I was back on tarmac, and a turn to the right and I found myself hurtling down a steep hill to the road.  I didn’t immediately realise it, but it was essentially back to the school.


Unfortunately, just as I got to the road, a car was coming out of the pub car park, and a parent herding two small children was overtaking an older guy walking with a Zimmer, so I had to stop for a bit to negotiate all that.  As both road and pavement were out-of-bounds.  It took an effort to get running again, it was so meltingly hot by then, and I was dehydrated.  However, the end was in sight, just a hoik up the hill to the finish.  Which you, my attentive reader, will know I’d taken care to visualise at the start of the day.  As I turned back through the main gate to the school, I realised for the first time I was still in sight of two runners just ahead.  I could see my Buxton Buddies (hello) on the hill, they must have finished way ahead of me.  Even better hear some Smiley Paces compatriots cheering me in.  Some had been running in the Struggle, others were visiting post the Smiley monthly off-road run, which coincidentally also was in Hathersage this month.   I put on what was for me at least, a bit of a sprint and managed not only to catch up, but just pass the other runner.  Hilariously (for me, maybe not for her so much) I ended up beating her by one  second.  However, we were both minutes behind the previous finisher. This meant that as I crossed the line it felt like I was actually coming first.  Some of the organisers who I’d chatted to at the start recognised me and were saying ‘told you you could do it‘ and other encouraging things.  ‘Have I won?’ I shouted as I tore (ahem) across the line.  ‘Yes you have!’ they responded.  And in a way that’s true isn’t it, we are all winners if we run!

My moment of victory was captured on camera by Smiley friends.  Other smilies were also captured on the finish line.  You can look and learn from our varied styles.  I may not have a running style you wish to emulate, but you could still use it as the basis for a ‘compare and contrast’ type analysis of running gait.  Don’t share with me though, I know the worst already!  I was a bit down by the state of me in some of the photos to be honest.  I confided in Hobbit buddy (my best friend again now the run is over) that I knew I really need to lose some weight somehow, but she said we just need to get Smiley Paces to order more flattering vest styles.  That’s why she’s my hobbit hash DVD buddy, we can work with that practical positivity!  Go us!

We took a moment for some celebratory hugs, and then I wandered off in my dream like state in search of my ‘free bottle of water’ that was promised to every finisher.  My I was in need of that.  Also available, really posh ice-cream. Next time I’ll go for that I think. Cakes and tea and coffee.

After mutual congratulations and story swapping.  We went to investigate the results, which was unexpectedly high-tech.  These two Smilies both made the placings for their age group.  I less so, but it’s not whether you win or lose is it?  This is what I tell myself.  Some of the leaders’ times though were crazy, how is it even possible to go those speeds on that terrain?  If you are interested, then see here for the full results of the 2016 Stanage Struggle .  I must marshal on a steep bit of a fell race one day, so I can see how it’s done.  40 minutes 36 seconds.  Just incredible, are they fearless or just crazed coming down those hills?

Next stop caffeine.  Whilst the refreshment options were impressive (there was a pub next door to the school as well), we felt we wanted ‘proper’ coffee, so decided to head to the Hathersage deli.  My Smiley buddies had first to go back to their car to change shoes and get cash. They left me on my lonesome by the roadside.  It was OK at first, but I did start to think I’d been abandoned like a puppy jettisoned from a car on a motorway as I hadn’t appreciated just how far away they’d parked. Still, not to worry.  I was able to hobnob with passers-by.  Thank marshals – though they were hard to spot as they were in disguise post event having removed their hi-viz so they could blend into the background once again.   Seriously though, thanks all you Fat Boys, fellow participants, marshals, hosts it was a fantastic event.  What’s more,  I had it from one of the officials that the sun always shines at this fell race, so that’s good to know.  One to do again next year, hopefully bringing not only loads more Smilies, but the entire Monday Mob with me too!  (Oh go on – you know you want to!).

Eventually my long-lost Smilies came into view, and after a bit more Smiley networking, we adjourned to the crowded deli and secured our post run coffee and carb fixes.

So we sat in the sun, and had a run debrief.  Soon enough, talk turned forthcoming running challenges.  The horror of this one ended, and the restorative effects of coffee, making the prospect of more running seem positively delightful all over again.  Both my companions are tackling the Sheffield Way Relay    I still can’t quite get my head around how this works.  It seems to be teams of five pairs of runners, each pair has to run one leg of about 10 miles. Looks quite hard-core.  To add interest to the final leg.  Competitors need to don biohazard suits, in order to avoid spreading the Japanese knotweed which is rampant on the last section.  I wonder if it’s near where Tom Wrigglesworth’s parents live?  I presume it’s some sort of variant on triathlon? I haven’t done any of it, but my Smiley companion who had, described doing a recce past signs warning ‘no entry without biohazard protection’ and then encountered a guy with a spray gun wearing all the gear like there’d been some sort of radioactive incident.  It sort of focuses the mind I’m guessing.  Given that earlier we’d all been saying how we hated carrying anything with us that might impede our running, I think it might be a challenge to run in this lot.  And to think some find taped seamed clothing requirements onerous in fell races. This should sort out the proverbial sheep from the goats eh?

We sat just long enough to stiffen up completely, and then hobbled back to our cars.  I only just made it out of the car park in the Business Centre in time.  Headed back to Sheffield over the hills, but the views were so stunning, with paragliders coming off Stanage Edge, that I actually pulled over to take some photos.  They aren’t a patch on the offerings from the ‘proper’ photographers out and about on the hills today, but they convey something of the scenery and isn’t it just grand!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

So that was that.  All done and dusted, and what a day out it was.  Thanks everyone.  Oh, and I didn’t come last, only nearly last.  A milestone of a sort?  Yes, I’d recommend, though whether the Stanage Struggle organisers feel there is merit in including my endorsement in their publicity is a matter for them and them alone!

For  all my posts concerning fell races follow this link (scroll down to see the one’s you’ve not read yet.)

Thanks to everyone who turned out to take photos and make them available afterwards too.  Some photos I can’t credit because I’m not sure of their origins, but special thanks to:

Robert and Eleanor Scriven for photos

Phil Sproson Photography also out and about

Shots of reaching the summit from Alan Billington

Stanage Struggle photos available from Sue-Nigel Jeff who ask: No obligation but if you wish please follow this link to make a donation of a couple of £ to Edale Mountain Rescue .

Also Peak District Fell Races Facebook page has album of photos of Stanage Struggle

Categories: 10km, fell race, motivation, off road, race, running, running clubs | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Longshaw Sheepdog Trials Fell Race 2016 – ewe know ewe want to…

Sub-optimal running conditions.’  That was the official comment on the event retrospectively according to the Longshaw Estate Facebook post.  I will concede that the statement is technically correct, but it doesn’t do full justice to the very wetness and persistence of the rain.  All part of the atmosphere and challenge for the hard-core fell runners out there – Dark Peak Fell Runners probably don’t bother getting up in the morning for anything less than vertical elevation and inclement weather after all.  However, for me that was a bit more of an issue.  Let me explain…

2016-09-03 22.08.44

Oh, hang on, first you want to know what it is I am talking about?  Keep up.  This was the Longshaw Sheepdog Trials Fell Race for 2016.  For the uninitiated (only me then, until yesterday), this is a Fell Race at the Longshaw estate, taking place on the same day as the sheepdog trials, which are apparently the the oldest continuous trials in the country. They have been run from 1898 to the present day, interrupted only by the two world wars.  Which is impressive, although the gap, whilst understandable, does rather stretch the definition of ‘continuous’ I agree.  The clue as to what to expect on the day is therefore in the name of the event (though I still can’t work out if sheep dog/ sheepdog should be one word or two.  They use two words but at Bamford Sheepdog Trials it was one, so die already cast with that I’m afraid).   Anyway, the website blah de blah follows, but naturally I only looked at it after the event (course outlines are scary and demoralising if read in advance I tend to think):

The Longshaw fell race is held on the Saturday morning of the Sheepdog trials.

The number of competitors at the Longshaw race has increased each year, despite competition from several other local races which are traditionally run on the same weekend.

Entries come from many miles away and occasionally we have an international runner in the field including the 2011 winner.

The Fell Race course is shown below, it covers 5 miles of varied terrain over Burbage, Higger Tor, Over Owler Tor, Owler Tor, Lawrence Field & Longshaw Pastures, including woods, rocky paths and the occasional bog.

The start field can be seen from the majority of the route and conversely the spectators can follow the runners through binoculars.

The course record is 38m 07sec and will stand for ever yes

Pay to enter the Sheepdog Trials (currently £5) and race free. Bring the family, there’s plenty for them to do whilst you run on the fells.

The map is here – incidentally, both me and my Tomtom GPS watch, and Strava thought the route was rather nearer 6 miles than 5 (came out at 5.8) but that’s just more fun on the fells isn’t it, so nothing to worry about.

Microsoft Word - Longshaw 2013.doc

So, back to all about me, and my race day experiences.  Well, my race day experiences naturally started a few days before.  The event begins at the moment you start to contemplate whether or not you intend to participate in my experience.  Note, I use the word ‘participate’ rather than ‘compete’ I do have an inner core of realism within.  Anyway,  I’d seen some nice heather out and about, I’d enjoyed Whirlow 10k a couple of weeks ago and lots of people say Longshaw Sheep Dog Trials fell race is really lovely… Hmmmm, I did what I always do on such occasions, solicit opinion.  I posted rather sheepishly (see what I’ve done there?) on the Smiley Facebook page to see who else might be up for it.   Lots of enthusiastic responses come pouring forth from various Smilies, all very clear that it would be a great idea for me to undertake this fell race, but for one reason or another none of them would.  It is only with hindsight I come to realise that many of these people cajoling me to ‘have it go it’s absolutely super!’ have gone to great lengths to avoid taking part again this year for their own part.  ‘I would have entered but I’m doing a 16k race in the Lakes that day – when is it again?‘, ‘would have entered but I’m injured‘, ‘would have entered but am marshalling instead – don’t forget to smile on your merry way past‘; ‘would love to but I live in Switzerland and I’m drinking gin that day‘ and, most tellingly of all perhaps, had I but thought it through ‘I would have entered, but my daughter has an appointment at the hairdressers‘ – this from the Whirlow 10k winning female runner.  Clue there surely, had I only been on my guard?

Still, that’s me, slow on the uptake.  Hope over experience has always served me well (not absolutely true, but don’t quibble).  There are some certainties here.  Fabulous punning potential, even though I am nowhere near the dizzy punning heights of some of my Smiley compatriots.  Some are very punny indeed.  It would be an adventure.  I might get my hat trick for final finishes (it doesn’t count if you come last deliberately by the way, you do have to actually try to run round in case anyone is planning to depose me from my rightful place).  Plus, some great anecdotes, potentially at least.  Elsewhere I heard tell of a runner who ran this event with her husband to be on the morning of their wedding day!  As I understand it, this involved charging round at the back, hugging each and every marshal en route, taking loads of selfies and pictures generally, and then getting wed in the afternoon. Back the following year (just to run, not to get married again as far as I know) she took 26 minutes off her time.  Must have been a very heavy camera weighing her down, but these photographers do like their kit do they not?

camera thats a big one

So anyway, thought basically I’d just sleep on it.  Checking out the weather forecast the day before it looked promising.  What the hell… lovely day for it, last chance to see the heather at its best and it’s on my doorstep after all.  I can walk round if it comes to it. ‘Twill be fine and dandy. Probably see some familiar faces, and it’s got such a good reputation it’s bound to attract plenty of ‘have a go’ runners romping round in wellingtons and/or flip-flops (different people obviously, that would be silly), I’ll just blend in, it will be fine.  Spoiler alert – it didn’t entirely work out like that, but I did have a good time anyway thank you for asking.

Sooooooo, day dawned.  Not looking altogether as promising out the window as I’d planned on rising.  However, I was undeterred, the morning broke like this last Sunday for the Longshaw 10k but early morning fog gave way to glorious sunshine.  It’d be fine.  Granted, teeny bit of concern about the forecast for torrential rain later, but that wasn’t until gone 12.30 and surely if the race was due to start at 10.30 I’d be back home tucked up under a duvet again by then?  Meantime, a bit of drizzle wouldn’t kill me.  Probably not.  There is that documentary though isn’t there, Sharknado, but I think that’s more an American phenomenon as far as I know…


Anyway, donned my running gear, went for short-sleeved (don’t want to get too hot out there) and Smiley Top.  How could they not be proud to see me flying the club colours?, also, aids with identification if some mishap should befall me.  I headed off early (where are the windscreen wipers on this blue car again) and soon arrived at the venue.  It is indeed lovely.  It was all well signposted (more of this later) and a super-friendly man in a kiosk took my fiver from me and welcomed me to the venue.  ‘Aah, you are obviously here for the fell race‘ he observed.  I was a bit confused, then remembered I was wearing my club vest. He hadn’t been responding to my athletic physique after all.  Too late for me to bottle it and pretend I’d come for the doubles herding course or whatever.  I read somewhere that some runners can be intimidated by the sea of club vests at the start of a race.  I simultaneously know exactly what she means (Dark Peak vests means it’s going to be steep; Steel City Striders it’s going to be fast), and feel very confident that no runner would be intimidated by the sight of me in my vest.  Astonished perhaps.  That is different.

I gingerly manoeuvred my car up the slope and through the long grass.  It was very well organised, with cone markers and friendly folk to wave you in the direction you needed to go.  It wasn’t raining at this point, so I could still hang on to the naive misconception that it was clearly ‘brightening up’.  It was cool and a bit overcast, perfect running conditions (apart from the little matter of that large hill looming on the horizon that would have to be negotiated).  I ventured over to the registration tent.  Very simple to complete your registration (they even had functioning pens for this purpose) and collect your number from the dream-team threesome who were solemnly recording all the entries.

2016-09-04 00.55.19

I was very taken with the design of the registration form.  Look at what they’ve done there at the top – using the sheep to spell out LONGSHAW!  Genius, simply genius.  I also liked my number a lot.   22.  It pleased me.  I couldn’t remember the registration number of my car so left that blank as I didn’t think ‘blue’ would be sufficient. Then afterwards I fretted in case they thought I’d snuck in without paying and so I’d be disqualified (not too much of an issue) or worse, just left to fend for myself out there on the fell, never to experience a latte again…  I got over it though. I’m more resilient than you may think.

So that was the business done and dusted.  Time for an explore.  There was a particularly fine produce collection on sale in the registration tent by the way.

2016-09-03 21.25.46

Other runners and organisers started to assemble.  I was pleasantly surprised to see quite a few familiar faces.  I was less pleasantly surprised at the lack of fun runners.  Also, quite a male dominated race, this didn’t bother me per se, but did suggest there’d be a bit of a split in the field potentially.  Where are all the people in fancy dress?  Oh well, I expect the have-a-go contingency will turn up at the last-minute I told myself.  Turns out that this race is one of the Gritstone series sponsored by Accelerate, whilst that particular detail had previously passed me by (much as life does all too often), it did mean that there were friendly faces from the Accelerate woodrun workshops.  (Thursday mornings, Eccleshall woods £2 be there 9.15 for 9.30 start, drills and shared expertise).  Yay.  It made a lot easier the task of ingratiating myself to the event sweeper.  I could brief him on my requirements, specifically, the ‘you have to understand I can’t talk and run‘ rider.  I was a little perturbed that his hi-viz jacket seemed to say ‘fast runner’ on it, but actually it was ‘last runner’ just to be clear.  So I could be confident that slot was already taken.  Mind you, I’ve come in behind a sweeper before, so no room for complacency.

To aid identification, he was also sporting a brush on his head.  Well, I say it was to aid identification, but it might have been a display of purely gratuitous, attention-gaining, rampant exhibitionism.  Or maybe he just forgot to glance in a mirror on the way out of the house and didn’t realise it was there.  We’ve all done that.  Or maybe he tried to look in a mirror and was just too tall to do so to any good effect.  He’d be the right height for maybe checking there was no toothpaste or breakfast down his front, but not for inadvertant headwear options.  I have this situation happen to me all the time in reverse.  I’m quite, well, (spoiler alert) short, and have lost count of the number of times I’ve been in a house and can’t see into a mirror because it’s been hung too high for someone of my stature to see themselves in without the aid of a step-ladder or other outside assistance.  (So to all those people muttering behind me ‘what did she do, get dressed in the dark?’ now you have your answer.)  Maybe tall people get that in reverse?  Only ever seeing their chests or midriffs in mirrors across the world?  Like medusa, unable to ever take a good look at their faces.  Plausible I think you’ll agree.. anyway, despite this speculation, on balance, I think it was just an exceedingly good visual pun, because he was The Sweeper see.   Sweeping up at the back of the race.  More genius.  You can’t trust anyone who doesn’t appreciate a good pun in my world view.  Puns are great.   Just goes to show, there were a great many smart people out and about at Longshaw for sheepdog trial day.  Not sure you can entirely tell by looking…

Pleasingly, I then caught up with another friendly face, who acknowledged me in public despite being a Dark Peak runner, so that was good for my self-esteem.  We headed off to make use of the ‘amenities’ and I took the opportunity of the queue to do a pre-race selfie (yes it’s compulsory).  It is the only evidence I was actually at this event to be honest, so here it is:

2016-09-03 22.04.33

Still not raining, oh good.  Saw a fellow Smiley and went to say hello.  It was her first time in a Smiley Vest apparently, so quite an occassion.  Other Smilies were marshalling, so there were a couple around, but this event seemed to attract more hardcore ‘proper’ fell runners I’d say.  Not that we don’t have hardcore fell runners within the Smiley Troupe, but they weren’t particularly in attendance today.  That made me gulp a bit, to be honest.  The sweeper was explaining there is ‘at least one really tough bit‘ and he made mention of having got ‘just a bit lost‘ on the recce, and I was blinking at him thinking ‘but you’re a really awesome runner – oh crap!’  The race start time drew near, and an attempt was made to herd us towards the start field.  Rain started to fall. Then, after a bit, it fell more, and heavier.  As a bit of a light weight (running wise, not actually) I took refuge in the tent.

Peering out at the rain as it became ever more persistent.   Still, no point in bleating about that.  It was reminiscent of the start of Percy Pud last year when all I really wanted to do immediately prior to the start was go home.  Unlike Percy Pud 2015, a rainbow did not then subsequently appear in the sky just as we were required to run.   Still, not to worry, the start was delayed anyway, as the race begins in the field used for the sheepdog trials and that class was running late – one of the dogs at least wasn’t being all that co-operative, with rather more boisterous running around going on than actual herding apparently.  One runner quipped maybe we should have a go at the sheep herding and leave the sheepdog to take on the fell race instead!  How we laughed, one of us at least with a tad too much desperation and longing in their expression of ha ha than was entirely appropriate.   Anyway, seems this is a sheepdog trials with a fell race attached, as opposed to vice versa, so dogs (and sheep)  take priority.  Fair enough, every dog should have its day as we all know.  And maybe the rain would stop.  (It didn’t, just got more confident and unrelenting).

2016-09-03 22.24.19

Waiting in the tent got increasingly toasty as more and more runners sought sanctuary.  I met some nice people and some interesting people and some people I already knew and some people I didn’t.  I wont draw a venn diagram of who was who.  Chance put me the way of a very encouraging ‘proper’ runner who was unbelievably nice.  I was pumping him for advice on what to expect, and he was patient and supportive (also slightly cornered, by the increasing squash of people, but I’m sure that had nothing to do with it).  He did say that some bits would be technical and would have to be walked, and when I said I was aiming for about 90 minutes (I know, but I am slow, and I just took my trail 10k time and added a chunk), he gently suggested that if expecting to be out that long on the hills it might be a good idea to take along something to eat for sustenance.  Well, naturally I am immediately drawn to think positively of anyone who tells me I really should be eating more.  ‘You might as well if you are walking bits anyway‘ he pointed out. This was probably good advice on reflection, but a bit late. I was glad I’d found the sweeper earlier, he had already reassured me he’d got emergency rations with him enough for a faller and himself too.  Anyway, my new friend said he thought I’d do it in under that, and he’d see me at the end.  I did, but didn’t see him, I imagine he’d have been long gone by the time I got round.  Here he is in action though,  by way of example.  I think it’s a reasonable bet he was flying along a tad faster than me, but then again, I did also run this route, in my own inimitable way, so hey, go me!  Thank you for being nice  to me though whosoever you were, it was very encouraging (kindness of strangers and all that).  (Action shots courtesy of Accelerate by the way, thank you!)

Acc super friendly guy

So, after another half hour or so, we were shooed out of the tent and towards the start.  Rain was heavy by this point, I was sodden, and so were my spirits.  I’d got a bit cold, and despite my porridge for breakfast, that had been 5 hours ago and I was wondering if I would have enough fuel in the tank.  Oh joy. On a cheerier note, there was a really good atmosphere.   A very jolly compère gave a commentary as we assembled, pouncing on various participants for a quick vox pox en route.  Shout outs were given to running clubs various, and a certain ‘Stu’ identified at the front.  (I overheard another runner explain to a friend that basically when he turns out, everyone else might as well go home – though this was said in an admiring rather than begrudging tone – this fell race is his for the taking, year on year it seems).  It was all very good-natured though.  A briefing of sorts was given ‘you all know the route don’t you, that’s grand?‘ and to the uplifting (but somewhat strangled by the outdoor PA) chords of ‘Chariots of Fire’ we all took off.

Acc start photo longshaw 2016

The start was fun, definitely fun.  It was a tusssocky romp across sodden land, and with a slight downwards incline (shame this becomes an upward incline on the return, but I wasn’t thinking about that just then).  I was near the back from the off to be fair, but then again, consistency is really my thing with fell races.  Fell running is inherently hilarious by the way, whilst it is true that those at the front gracefully fly across the hills, there are still a fair few of us just blagging it with varying degrees of decorum towards the rear.  Trying to balance on tufts of reeds, and a few at this stage even trying to avoid the boggy bits. An entirely futile exercise, but all part of the challenge.  There is something joyful about a crowd heading off to the hills at speed for no good reason other than the sheer unadulterated merriment of it all.

Acc view from the back

Quick scamper across the fields, and then soon you get to the first road crossing.  This was so astonishingly well marshalled it was like there’d been some sort of national emergency declared at just this spot.  Traffic stopped, signs and hi-viz aplenty as only a well oiled machine of rapid response disaster management teams could.  It was fine going out, as a crowd of us scampered across the road like an army of soldier ants (albeit ones shrink – wrapped in colourful lycra), it was less fine coming back when I was so far behind the field I felt a fraud for holding up the traffic.  Oh well, that was still to come!

All too soon though, the upward bit comethed.  I was quickly over-taken by all but the sweeper and his running buddy (who claimed to have not run for ages, but then told tales of running conquests that suggested his legs would still very much have it in their muscle memory at the very least).  Inevitably, I found my place, at the back.  It was OK though, I’m getting used to this position.  You are allowed to come last at a fell race and not marry someone in the afternoon unless you want to I think, so keep it all in proportion if it happens to you.  Plus, you are near to the emergency supplies and don’t have to worry about navigation, or carrying anything.  All good too.

Whilst it was definitely wet, and getting wetter, it was lovely out there. It was ‘proper’ off road quite quickly.  Following sheep tracks and picking through the gritstones.  I was glad of my fell shoes, and they gripped really well, I got more confident in them as I – well, I was going to say bounded but it would be more accurate to concede – picked my way up the hill.  You could see the snake of runners way ahead (which was aesthetically pleasing if also a tad demoralising) and although the tops were shrouded in mist, the landscape is just awesome.  Heather and bracken all about, it is really beautiful.

I made what might generously be called ‘erratic’ progress, I put on a bit of a yomp wherever it flattened out a bit, or the stones gave way to more forgiving peat.  I love the springiness of running on peat, it cossets your feet, I’m very wary of falling on the stonier bits though.  I felt for the tail runners who were dutifully keeping a respectable distance as best they could, but would in honesty have liked to stretch their legs a bit more I’m sure. I gave them lots of braking practice with my stop/ start approach.  I’m sure they loved that.  It was nice for me though eavesdropping on their anecdotes with each other, and their negotiations over who would get to pick up the next bit of tape or marker.  Occasionally, when I was walking, we chit-chatted a bit, and that was fine, because I’ve always been exceedingly good at walking and talking as my hobbit buddy would gladly testify I’m sure.  Once I started running again I reminded them that I’d been serious about not being an especially communicative runner, adding that I wasn’t a particularly running communicator either.  Yin yan I suppose, yin yan.

The uphill bit did eventually pause at least, which was just as well as my vision started to be seriously impaired.  The rain was so heavy now it had washed off all my sunblock (I know, what was I thinking, to say I’d been afflicted by blind optimism in the morning seems to have been literally as well as prophetically and metaphorically  true!) into my eyes and stung like *&%+!  or, more politely ‘billy o’.  Periodically we passed marshals, some of whom must have been absolutely freezing as well as soaked through.  They’d had a long wait, not just for the start, but for me to come round at the back.  Even so, they were all incredibly encouraging and smiling.  Part of this was no doubt relief at my appearance as that meant they would now be free to abandon their posts, but it was also due to their innate positivity and cheeriness which is endemic to the run-marshalling community as far as I can determine.   Thank you all you marshals, you are STARS!   One marshal had the foresight to bring an umbrella with her.  Wish I had.  At Burbage Bridge it took me a while to identify a Smiley Elder (she of the visor self-sacrifice) as the marshal. She was comprehensively cocooned in wet-weather gear, so I had almost run past before I recognised her and I had to swivel back to exchange hugs.  I am a bit hug-orientated when running, haven’t yet dared to ask more experienced runners if that’s appropriate or bad form.  Nobody has ever refused a hug though, but perhaps that’s because they are too scared by the manic look in my eyes or caught by surprise by my embrace to do so. I might post a question about it on a running forum some day. Then again, I may not.  Sometimes ignorance is bliss.  There are truths that are better left unsaid.

After Burbage, you turn back and its downhill for a bit.  Loved this, you dip down out of some of the wind and wet, and the ground is soft and the downward incline more my thing. However, I was a bit gingery going down as it was a bit ‘technical’ to use the jargon.   The ground was very uneven and the path unclear.  I’m sure the faster runners fly round, they must do to achieve the times they get, but I wasn’t going to follow suit.  You do feel adventurous though, and sometimes I think, because I am slow and at the back, I am out of sight of other runners and it’s like I have the whole landscape to yourself.  Gorgeous.  I wasn’t even cold at this point, because I did keep moving, I think you’d freeze PDQ had you stopped though.  This might have been one of the very few events where the fleece-police would have let me wear my running jacket… maybe.  Wouldn’t bank on it though, they are very persistent.

You scramble down to a stream, and fortunately, there was a marshal positioned ‘on high’ up a ridge where he had a good view to direct you where to cross the water, which you do twice.  No stepping-stones here, you have to splosh through, but that was fun, and I was pretty water-logged by then anyway.  I don’t really mind what happens on the way home as you know at this point you are going to fundamentally be OK.  The guys at frontrunner set up my tomtom so it vibrates after each ‘lap’ of one mile ahead of the Sheffield half, so my watch had been buzzing periodically to tell me what my progress was.  I don’t ever look at my watch whilst I’m actually running, but I do like to feel the miles being ticked off.  You have at least a vague sense of being beyond half way or whatever.  So, fell shoes filled with water, I sloshed on and out of the stream.  There I saw another familiar face.  A wannabee runner who alas had missed the start, but come to walk round anyway and offer  support.  That was really nice!  Thanks for being there.  This was the really tough bit.  The hill was slippery, steep and treacherous underfoot.  I tried to keep going, but even with the sweeper, sweeper buddy, and now a marshal relieved from his post (honestly I was like the pied piper going round, only picking up more marshals in my wake with each mile of the course rather than small children) I had to stop periodically to give my legs a break.  It was more of a scramble than a walk.  I had to hang on to clumps of grass on the way up.  You couldn’t even see the top though I could hear the occasional strangled cry of a runner ahead.  I wasn’t sure if that was because they’d come to grief, fallen over a cliff edge, or were just expressing relief at having summitted (is that even a word?).  Still, it meant there were humans in the vicinity.

Eventually, like a guiding angel, Accelerate Man (yes, that is a new super-hero I’ve just invented, but it does the job, would be better if he had worn Patagonia made pants over running leggings for super-hero identification purposes, but work in progress I daresay) came into view.  Shouting encouragement, he actually offered his hand and hoiked me up the last bit.  There was another marshal at the top, who offered some water.  Unusually for me I took a slurp (I’m a bit OCD about sharing water bottles). I think I must have needed it, as I was a bit disoriented, and initially headed off in the wrong direction before being called back and being pointed the opposite way. The next bit was good, familiar yomping territory, a bit of down hill, and my tail runners were distracted by variously pulling up markers, chatting to marshals, having a picnic whatever, so they weren’t so much on my tail.  Grateful as I was for their attentions going round, it was nice to be on my own for a bit, taking it all on and in.  More marshal waving, and then as I rounded a bend for the homeward curve, there was Accelerate Man again.  I promptly nearly fell over as I felt I owed it to him to at least to pretend to be running throughout, and got distracted.  ‘Don’t look at me, look where you are going!’  It’s these sort of professional coaching tips that are worth so much in a race situation!  Here is a picture of what other runners look like when they are not falling over or gazing in the wrong direction, I have not made the cut for this album as yet…  You can also see the terrain.  Unlike these runners I got all this bit all to myself!

Acc sure it rained more than this ...

From here it was pretty much downhill, the terrain wasn’t too technical.  I had my personal coach in tow, alongside even, and got some impromptu advice on technique as we went round.  The main advice was to keep running, small steps, however slowly.  If you constantly walk, you end up just getting ever faster at walking, whereas if you run slowly, you will eventually run faster.  There is an unarguable logic in this, although I’m still going to power walk up the really technical bits.  It was good to have a bit of a chat and a catch up at this point, made me feel more confident about showing my face at woodrun again.  I’ve not been in ages because I’m so rubbish, but then again as Accelerate Man pointed out (with respect) ‘that’s bollocks‘ as an excuse, how else are you going to improve, and they are an encouraging rather than judgemental outfit.  (Incidentally, this conversation was not in violation of my ‘I can’t talk and run directive’, as I wasn’t travelling fast enough for it to apply).   Honestly, I would have got lost at this point if I hadn’t been with someone who knew the route, the markers were a bit further apart, and some of the route was properly cross-country, i.e. not on any path at all, not even a sheep track.  I have a theory that someone tall put out the markers here, as there was in fact a flag put up just over a hump in the terrain, but my eye line couldn’t see over the mound.  Hence I had a few moments of gazing around in all directions clueless until nudged in the right direction by my personal guide who knew the route.

Eventually, the marquees of the event came into view.  The course flattened out, and you could head to the finish. The advice was to keep to the trodden bit to save energy as the path is already there, walk crossing a dip in the land just ahead, then after three strides, start running again to achieve a sprint (ahem) finish. This was good advice actually, and when I write my own (best-selling) running text-book to inspire future generations I may include it.  It was thinking a bit ahead that helped,  I never do that when I run, I just run (or not), I don’t have a plan as such, but even that little bit of planning helped me keep up a pace.  Whilst I’m dolling out top tips for racecraft, I got another few bits on this yomp out.  One from the sweeper, who reminded me to push off with my feet when running (that does really help you to run more efficiently) and one from the sweeper’s buddy (I think it was him), who pointed out that if you are in danger of coming last, it’s a good idea to fall back as early on as possible, as that gives you the maximum amount of time to make up the distance during a race.  Wise words indeed.  I achieved the first bit of this advice all on my own by instinct, just got to nail the making up the distance later part.  Still one out of two aint bad.

So, I dragged my weary carcass up that final incline to the finish funnel (let’s gloss over the fact I got all confused and nearly went the wrong way round into it) and was greeted by Fell Race Compère Man (yes, another super hero in the making) who was providing a commentary as I came in.  Naturally, he was very keen to hear my thoughts on the conclusion of the race.  I gave my name and used the opportunity to vindicate myself when he asked me if I’d had fun out there.  ‘Of course I did, it was great,  that’s why I took my time out there I wanted to make the most of it!’  That’ll have fooled them.

I gave my name to the time keepers, and gave my number to a bedraggled and be-sodden hat-wearing small child who was brandishing an open bin-liner towards me for the purposes of number collection.  She’d done good work, out in all that rain collecting numbers all day.  The only people behind me were the back markers, so I waited to applaud them in, and shared celebratory hugs.  I thanked my impromptu coaching team for helping me round and then once again sought the sanctuary of the tent.

Usually by the time I’m back at a race the prize giving is all done and dusted, not so here.  I got an orange juice and lemonade from the bar, and hung on for the presentations which were imminent.  Top marks for the presentation, it was a hoot.  Total of entries was revealed as 176.  One person who entered apparently then almost immediately withdrew as the elements drew in, they were singularly unimpressed by the weather. The compère cheerfully pointed out that no refund had been given.  Fair enough, fell running is not the faint hearted.  One runner DNF.  There was a bit of a hub-bub around as people speculated what had happened to them.  Seems someone took a tumble and had been spotted considerably bloodied but unbowed, by various runners. They were sporting a nice gaping head wound according to at least one account.  ‘Are they here?  Are they OK?’ enquired the compère.  ‘They’re being stitched up at the Hallamshire’ heckled a spirited observer.  How everyone laughed.  What larks eh?  I later discovered that wasn’t so much a heckle as a statement of fact.  Oh well, where would be the fun in fell running if it wasn’t for the frissance of danger on the way round eh?

Prizes were given predominantly to Dark Peak  Fell Runners for actual running, well they are individually as well as collectively phenomenal, so not a surprise.  One category winner was absent though, but ‘not from round here so probably not daring to show their face‘ was wryly observed in jest (I hope).   Impromptu spot prizes were then handed out on something of a whim.  ‘Muddiest legs‘ nope, not enough interest ‘runner from furthest away?’  ‘Yay, get that‘, someone from New York was identified, but I suspect a scam.  Something in the intonation about having ‘travelled all the way from the great U S of A just to join us for the day‘didn’t entirely ring true, but entertained massively all the same.

Oh, you want to know the winners?  Well, if you really care, here is the link to results in full for Longshaw Sheepdog Trials 2016 .  And here is a photo of the stars of the day.  I think they win cake, worth running fast for.  Though honestly, neither of them look like they really each much cake do they?*  That’s the compère with them, not their minder.  Classy dress for the occassion don’t you think? Raises the tone of a run in my view.

Acc the winners are

*CORRECTION:  I’ve been asked to point out that there is a significant factual innacuracy here.  The Female winner does in fact eat a lot of cake, with enjoyment.  Must just run even more to burn it all off afterwards.  Unreserved apologies for that inadvertant libel.

By this time, I was getting really cold, so just time to splash out on some of the catering options and head for home.  Waving goodbye to compatriots various as I did so.  Would thoroughly recommend this event, it is a hoot, friendly, and delivered with considerable aplomb I’d say.  One of the funniest presentations I’ve been too, and I like the way they big up the whole affair.  Fiver, what’s not to like, apart from excessive rain, but don’t worry about that, it won’t rain next year, FACT.

So I headed home, negotiating  my car out the field went better than expected given the increased sogginess of the terrain, bit of a scary slide on the muddy road bit though.  Longshaw Sheepdog Trials 2016 had one parting gift for me though, the pun of the day!

On exiting I saw a sign from one of the event sponsors at the entrance of the site.  It was for an estate agent. ‘Come Buy‘ it proclaimed.  See what they did there?  Genius.  So much so, I actually went back the following day (just now in fact) to snap a shot of it, and the muddy deserted site.  All over, until same time next year.

So, are we putting your name down for 2017, or would you like to think about it?  Get your hair appointment booked in early perhaps?

For accounts of all my fell race efforts follow this link.

For accounts of my final finish position posts (that’s a not very smart euphemism for coming last by the way) use this link (content is quite similar to fell races link to be fair, but there you go!)

For another perspective on this yomp out see here Steel City Striders run report Longshaw Sheepdog Trials 2016.

Categories: fell race, off road, race, running, running clubs | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Fell Frolics – Bamford Sheepdog Trials 2016

And they say the camera never lies?  Well, it’s not that I’m not grateful to generous George for being there, but really, it’s more complicated than you might at first fully appreciate …

GC maintained my position the whole way round

So, let’s think about it a bit shall we?  This candid action shot appears to show a moment of running ecstasy.  A happy athlete approaching the finish tape (that red and white bit of plastic in the foreground is surely it).  You might reasonably assume from her expression of ungoverned joy that she’s almost certainly in uncontested first place, romping home after a nigh-effortless gazelle-like sprint across the hills.  You might think that… It would be wrong.

So dear reader, I cannot tell a lie, ’tis  I myself in this shot!  It is true, in that moment I am truly ecstatic, but it wasn’t so much joy at what I was experiencing, but the other sort of fun. You must know the kind?  The sort of fun that is really only evident retrospectively, or, as in this case, the sort of joy that manifests itself when a moment of hell is about to end.  You thought you were going to die (even actually rather wished you would but a moment earlier), but instead ‘hooray‘ you have survived this feat of endurance, the end is in sight.  You can see relief and support ahead, all things come to an end and this will too.

This snap has captured the very moment of survivor’s euphoria as I came in not in fact first (try not to be too surprised) but last, at the Bamford Fell Race.   You can possibly just make out the people in green in the background of the shot.  They were the St John’s Ambulance crew at the ready at the finish, probably specially called in to place in case I didn’t quite make it.  In truth,  I am still processing this event, I think it does fall broadly into the category of ‘I’m not sure if I enjoyed myself but I’d have been dead pissed off to have missed it.‘  In case you are thinking of taking this challenge on for yourself, my highly subjective and slightly traumatized account follows…  read on at your peril.  First though, let’s calm it all down again with a nice sheep.  Got to love a nice sheep, especially when there are no mallards handy, then sheep are a reasonable calming substitute.

GC sheep shot

So the basics, this was Bamford Sheep Dog Trials Fell Race, late May bank holiday monday 2016.  Not to be confused with the Bamford Carnival Fell Race, which is mid July-ish.  These are apparently COMPLETELY DIFFERENT events, even though they both start at the Thornhill Recreation Ground and go up to the top of Win Hill and back.  They do take different routes though, so I am told. Though each take on just over 1000 feet of ascent, cover 4.5 miles and involve downwards bits that have been described as ‘death-defying descents‘, so maybe I should have done a bit more research in advance before rolling up on the day …  Wise after the event, I can provide strava proof that it is actually like this, which is very steep indeed going up thank you for asking.  I don’t understand why the elevation stats in my split thing doesn’t add up to 1014 feet, because that is the total on my strava summary and what the event is described as, it will have to be another mystery:

route map

  So, let’s rewind shall we, and try to bring about some chronology to this event.

It all started with an innocent enough post on the Smiley Paces Facebook page.  Who fancies joining me for this little innocuous sounding fell race, said Fell Flying Smiley.  Well, I think I was momentarily distracted by the prospect of going to a Sheepdog Trials, fond memories of ‘One Man and his Dog’ and my Aunt Elisabeth who, alone, ran a small sheep farm in Northumberland and could still vault a five bar gate at the age of seventy. Small country shows.  Surely there would be hand carved sticks, a cake stall, maybe even a small hen show alongside?  I took in the distance (4.5 miles is definitely manageable) but on reflection, I was a bit vague about the more critical details around ‘elevation’ and possibly the word ‘fell’ as precursor to the word ‘race’.  Basically, I was expecting the sheep dogs to be subjected to trials not myself.  A few other keenies piped up and before long ‘hooray’ we have a smiley outing.  Some nay-sayers predicted torrential rain, but I was optimistic.  It might well be a may bank-holiday monday fixture, but I was banking on benign weather on the day, and even if it did rain, it wasn’t going to be cold.  Bring it on!


 So, on the appointed morning, I cadged a lift from a fellow Smiley, who kindly scooped me up en route.  We found our way to Bamford, and despite a brief dip in confidence as to whether or not we’d find the venue as we sailed through the village with not a scrap of bunting in sight, we eventually saw a painted sign directing us off to the right and to a hidden flat field and tennis club (bizarrely) which was the event venue.  A smiling aide directed us to where to park, and another had to run after us to tell us ‘not there’ as we found we both failed to assimilate the original instructions and circled into the ‘presidential parking’ area as if we were born to it.  A few spins round the grass later, and we came to a stop.  It was a bit over-cast, not warm, and I was glad of my long-sleeved top.

 It was a short stroll from the car parking area to the event entrance.  It was £5 entry, but this includes FREE entry to the Fell Race as a given.  A snip I felt.  You could if you wished fork out an extra £1 for a programme, but I found it worked pretty well just to wait for my accompanying Smiley to purchase one, and just appropriate it for my own personal use at the first possible opportunity.  It was a good programme actually, including details of entrants for the various Sheep Dog Trials, a picture of the obstacles sheep had to be guided through, and times of various classes – hand sheep shearing amongst others.


We got a raffle ticket by way of admission, and we were directed to go off and register for the fell race clutching this as proof of payment.  There was already a little gathering of other runners (ooh, actually they did look like ‘proper runners’ not so much turning up in their jeans and wellies as ‘have a go runners’ which was what I’d imagined…).  It was explained you just fill in a little form (name, categories, emergency contact) and then joined the queue to collect a number.  We did join this queue, even though this was a tad optimistic as there was no-one staffing the table at the front of it.  Just as we were contemplating coming back later, an elegantly coiffed and smartly turned out in tweed woman appeared and carefully took our forms and gave numbers in exchange.  Yes there were safety pins.  There was also a loo, with NO QUEUE.   However, word of warning, the interior bolt appears to work but doesn’t.  I managed to do a big reveal on one woman whilst she was enthroned (that made her precautionary pee more adventurous and fast flowing than she’d originally planned I bet) so good idea to have an exchange lookout system. I had to fight off at least one other trying to get in and surprise my Smiley soul mate.  The problem was the loo was just a solitary cubicle but it was within what looked like a festival set of cubicles, so sort of invited others to climb on board. Anyway, you have been warned.  We milled about a bit, watching others registering, and reviewing the map.

We got to have some chit-chat with other runners who had done it before.  Belatedly the penny was dropping.  This fell race would involve going up a lot of hill, it was going to be steep.  ‘Will I need to navigate?’ I asked a runner who was back again for another year ‘oh no, not at all‘ she gushed reassuringly.  Before adding ‘oh actually, one person did get lost one year, but they turned up after only a couple of hours so that was ok – gave the organisers a bit of a panic though!’  She skipped away contentedly, I stood blinking less enfolded with contentment, and more engulfed with a growing sense of I’d not really thought this through.

Oh well.  Plenty of time (the race didn’t start til 1.00 p.m. and it wasn’t even noon).  We pinned on our numbers and went for an explore.  There was the obligatory cake stand; a poster competition – school children’s collages for the event; a honey related stand; a sheep related stall; ice cream; burgers; some hand hewn wooden furniture – usual suspects.

That was all background noise though, for the main event!  There was a massive flat field with a gorgeous wild rural backdrop, which was the venue for the sheep dog trials.  We settled ourselves on some handily vacant orange plastic seating, and watched the dogs being put through their paces.  Not really understanding what was going on was probably a bonus.  That way we could use our imagination to try to fathom what the objectives were.  Also I managed to blag to some extent based on my childhood holidays in Northumberland which did involve local shows and sheep related activities.  (We stayed in a tied cottage next to the resident shepherd on a larger farm, and he used to take me out on the moors with him from time to time, plus I’d ‘helped’ with sheep dipping on my aunt’s farm so that makes it practically genetically inherited knowledge surely? My aunt had a small holding with sheep that she ran on her own, she was an amazing woman, could still vault a five bar gate at the age of seventy.   I’ve never been able to do that in my life!).  Anyway, I could feign a marginally more authoritative tone than my knowledge strictly merited when my only audience was a total rookie to sheep keeping circles.  It was great that, quite compulsive. The challenge for one dog to move three sheep through an assortment of gates was testing indeed.  I don’t think any achieved this whilst we were watching, not within the allocated time.  There was a shift for paired dogs to show off their skills, also hard.  Amazing to watch, the dogs keenly tuned in to their herders, the sheep nowhere near as compliant as the film Babe would have you believe.  The way the dogs crawled on their bellies or shot of rocket like across the field in response to mysterious dolphin whistles or clicks was astonishing.  You can see the inner wolf though, those stalking dogs looked controlled, but still predatory.

I enjoyed this bit.  Watching the sheep and the dogs and the people.  It was fantastic for people watching all together.  It was a snap shot of a very different way of life.  The weather was gorgeous. After a while, other familiar faces appeared.  Some more Smileys (Yay, can never have too many of them); pretty big turn out for other clubs too.  I misjudged this event really.  I thought it would be a bit of a laugh with yes, some people doing it seriously, but a large of tail of ‘just the once  a year’ typr runners.  Not so, this was a fell race that clearly features in some people’s annual racing calendar.  That’s not to say it wasn’t welcoming, it was, but I had that sinking feeling early on, that I was not going to acquit myself with glory…

So inevitably, the hour drew near.  All too soon, a commentator encouraged fell runners to assemble on a road adjacent to the recreation ground.  I slotted myself in towards the back.  The sun came out, and suddenly, I went from being just right, to knowing I was going to be waaaaaaaaaaaaaay to hot.  I felt a moment of absolute empathy and communion with the heavily fleeced sheep who were romping around unshorn, in anticipation of the hand shearing contest later on. Except in my case, contributory negligence had me decked out in my  long-sleeved top and smiley vest over it.  There was some sort of briefing, nope, no idea what that comprised.  There was the usual clapping, with which I joined in, clueless.  Eventually, the cry for ‘awf’ went up and each and all set off their GPS devices and off we swarmed.  It was a sort of Mexican wave, which was a race start variant new to me. We surged forward, then halted, then surged for again.  It didn’t feel unsafe exactly, but it did feel strange.  I wondered if someone had fallen over, but no sign of it. Within seconds I was overtaken by almost everyone (flashbacks to the start of Wingerworth wobble).  On the plus side I was still in sight of the pack.  On my  shoulder was a friendly guy who identified himself as the tail marker.  Oh well, at least I didn’t have to worry about getting lost, though I was a bit worried about maybe having to make conversation… on the way round.

The start of the race was flat pretty much, and on solid road, turning off onto a pretty permanent compacted path.  It was very pretty actually, and there were some supporters at the send off, including our bespoke Smiley photographer Mr Carman.  I’m happy to report he snapped me – and indeed other runners at this juncture.  You might make out that I’m just ahead of the guy in the green shirt.  Yup, he’s the tail marker, and, for your information, I maintained that position without deviation for the entire duration of the run.  So, whatever else may not have been up to par on this occasion, running wise, you have to give me credit for the consistency of my pacing.  How many other runners out there that day could make the same claim I wonder?  Not many!  There is also an incredibly rare shot of my back disappearing into the distance.  Very, very few runners have ever seen the back of my Smiley vest as usually it is me bringing up the rear.  One day when I get my fifteen minutes of fame this picture could be worth a bit to be honest.   To be clear, the copyright is with Mr C, in the meantime you saw it here first.

So off we yomped, cheery enough to start.  Cow parsley in abundance, shade of the woods, and easy under foot.  The route was about 1 1/2 miles of gently undulating trail.  I was in fear of the climb ahead.  The sweeper behind me was very kind and supportive.  I explained about not being able to talk and run at the same time and he was understanding about that.  He was a local, and said he was happy to lope round slowly.  He didn’t crowd and kept a bit behind which was good.  I did wonder if he had either incredibly poor balance, or some issue with bladder control, as behind me at periodic intervals I could hear him randomly crashing into the bushes on either side of the path.  Eventually, (rather later in the run than I like to admit here), I realised that he was simply deviating from the path to rip down and retrieve the red and white tape that was marking the route. This was good actually, as this meant it slowed him a bit behind me.  There were a few marshals along the way too, the first of which appeared to completely block a rather charming path ahead instead directing runners by pointing menacingly up a near vertiginous slope towards Win Hill.  Gulp. This is where it started.

This bit was seriously steep.  It wasn’t much of a path, it was dry, so not too bad in that respect, but you did have to pick your way up, in my case hanging on to the odd protruding tree route to avoid sliding back.  I really don’t know if or how lead runners navigated this. Surely everyone would have to walk?  It was clambering territory.  I might have enjoyed this on a hobbit yomp, but in the race context, right at the back, even though the tail marker was lovely, I did feel under pressure.  To add to my predicament, at intervals there were walkers who politely gave way to runners – usually I’d bank on being able to use the old ‘no no, you first‘ ploy to bagsy a brief interlude when negotiating such challenging such steep terrain.  I was way too hot, and quite thirsty too.  The back marker did say I could strip off if I wanted and he’d carry anything which was incredibly kind, but a whole new area of angst to negotiate so I figured I’d just press on rather than disrobe whilst clinging on to what seemed to be essentially a cliff.  In reality, I don’t think the other runners were all that far ahead, but they were out of sight.  The climb went on for ever.  Eventually we reached a point where it flattened out and a road crossed.  ‘Well done, we’re nearly half way‘ said the tail marker cheerily.  ‘Kill me now‘ said my inner voice, surely we had conquered more than that?

Eventually though, we did reach the end of the really steep bit.  It levelled out, and it was beautiful.  Towards the end of the path was another marshal calling encouragement.  ‘You are nearly there, hurry up!‘  (I wasn’t altogether keen on the ‘hurry up‘ comment to be honest, but I accept the sentiment behind it…).  You then emerge from a wooded path, and looking up to the left you could see a final steep haul to the summit of Win Hill.  There were some runners still negotiating this, at a walk in some instance, (yay, these are my people) and I could make up at least one Smiley vest just ahead too.  At the top of the hill were a trio of volunteers/ supporters furiously ringing cowbells, which they did for every runner, not stopping until I too had made it.  That was pretty darned good to be honest, I think you for your efforts.

I tried to linger a bit as I wanted to turn around to take in the stunning view of Ladybower reservoir, but another marshal was now on my heels.  However, I did manage a brief pause as a camera wielding ally called ‘go smiley’ and her companion golden retriever dog gazed at me adoringly.  I paused for a doggy cuddle.  On reflection, fell flying smiley has previously told me a tale of how mid run she was in need of a restorative hug, and unable to muster the confidence to demand one from a random marshal, she found instead a bouncing dog which showered her with ecstatic and boisterous affection at just the moment it was needed.

I haven’t found a photo of me at the top, but there are plenty of stunning shots of other people to give you an idea.  It is a gorgeous route, no question.  Actually, I wonder if I could find a way to Photoshop that other Smiley vest wearer to incorporate a black long-sleeved look and blag it as me in the light of a flattering filter?  Or maybe I could persuade you I did disrobe on the way up and that’s actually me?  It is certainly how I wished I looked at this point in the event, I have a feeling the camera might say otherwise…  Also being ahead of other runners could call into question the legitimacy of my claim.  Oh well next time maybe…

So I did a solitary lope to the marker at the peak of Win Hill, whilst the tail marker bounded from side to side gathering more markers which had (rather cleverly) been tied around various stones and rocks to guide the way.  You’d think at this point the knowledge that it was now downhill all the way might have been restorative.  In fact, the immediate challenge was to pick down the dusty, slippery and stony path, and I was not courageous enough to run that, though I’m sure some did.  Then there was heather, with hidden knotted roots, and chasms in amongst the peat which I took carefully.  It was fun though, it felt like ‘proper’ off road’.  After not too much longer, another marshal pointed me towards a downward grassy path.  That was my favourite bit.  The tail marker was further back, chatting to the marshals, this was a steady surface where you could confidently run, and the down hill gradient gave me the illusion of being super-speedy.  Plus you had fabulous views still, and a warm sense of relief that the upward bit was now truly behind.  Here by way of illustration is an action shot of my chauffeur buddy smiley at this very juncture.  Looks fun eh?  (Thank you Jeffs for your shots, I’ve used them freely here, but I promise I did make a donation too 🙂 ).

SNJ flying home

I did at one point espy another photographer at a point I was definitely cautiously negotiating heather ‘I hope you know how to Photoshop to make me look like I’m running‘ I exclaimed ‘I do, but no need‘ she replied ‘you will be soon‘ and she waited for me to build up some momentum before taking her snap.  Not the most flattering of shots perhaps, but as with the opening number in this post, it has the ring of authenticity catching me apparently screaming all the way down…  In fact, I have a horrible feeling that if you put all the photos snapped of me en route in sequence, I would have apparently screamed continuously up, along the top, down and through the finish without pausing for breath. Thank goodness I didn’t get lost up there. Imagine having to have all these ‘last seen’ or ‘have you seen this woman’ images broadcast on Look North as people were asked to look out for a screaming banshee on the hillside in an attempt to find me before it was too late.  What would my celebrity crush Harry Gration make of it?  Doesn’t bear thinking about…  I’d never be able to high-five him at the start of a half-marathon again – even if I did get rescued.

SNJ running scared

The downward route was lovely, grassy fields where other runners were made to look like they were recreating a timotei ad followed.  Then, narrow woodland tracks that would be muddy in winter but on this day were dry so you could skip over the little streams of water which were guided across the path with some lovingly laid stone drainage systems.

After a bit you ended up rejoining the outward track, and probably it was just another half a mile or so on the flat to cover before you returned to the start.

The end was a sort of hobbit appropriate one.  Have you ever seen any of the ‘Lord of the Rings’ films?  Well, I can’t remember which one it was.  But there was one that went on and on and on, and then just when you thought you’d reach the climactic finish you realised it wasn’t yet, there was another climactic bit, and then another… endless apparently.  To be fair, this Bamford Sheep Dog Trials fell race was way better as an experience overall, but, there was a false ending.  As you got back to where you started there were a couple of marshals holding some tape across the road, and I took this to be the end point.  WRONG.  Epic fail.  Instead you had to make a sharp right and rejoin the flat green field of the Thornhill recreation ground, sprinting (I use the term loosely) past some attending St John’s Ambulance people, who were sat in canvas chairs by their emblemed vehicle soaking up the rays and the scene.  I was so relieved at this point I cornered (captured by the Divine David  there especially to record the moment – Mr Carr I thank you):

.. and still screaming, and still maintaining that coveted last place, I espied a swarm of supporters. The great, the good, the curious and the just happened to be there, but it was fantastic. Even a not-seen-for-ages Wingerworth originating Smiley, so that was a nice and unexpected reuinion!   Cheers went up, the camera clicked with that opening shot above, Established Squeeze was standing by to offer reviving water, and all the torments of half an hour before were entirely expunged from my memory.  I did remember to breathlessly express my appreciation to the attentive tail marker before he disappeared into the crowd.

Maybe this is an opportune moment to say thanks to the whole organising team, all of them.  The people who plotted it in advance, the marshals on the day, photographers, supporters, timers and finish line cheerers.  The cake bakers, the planners, the route finders, the bell ringers – one and all!  You are all awesome and worthy of recognition.

before and after

We joyfully regrouped, shared running tales, and made our way to the – well I was going to say pavilion, but really it was more of a shed, where awards were given.  There were loads and loads of prizes.  I do wish I’d taken a proper shot, as there was a table utterly laden with lavish home-made cakes each wrapped in colourful blue cellophane.

Prizes for fastest men and women runners in various age categories.  Prize for fastest local runners.  However, most excitingly for our gaggle, a spot prize for the runner whose race number corresponded with their finish position!  Reader, it was one known to us.

The prize was a bottle of Rose, which put me in mind of an occassion when a friend and I went out for a meal.  We were thinking of sharing a bottle, but then it emerged I only drank white wine and she only red.  The waitress, trying to be helpful suggested rose as a compromise.  We both glared at her like she was mad.  ‘Why would we do that?’  So both of us were equally miserable with the choice of wine presumably.  Anyway, good he got a prize for both awesome running and awesome counting too perhaps.  On reflection, if I’d known about this I should have registered late and I’d have been a shoo-in for that award, still I don’t really like rose.  I reckon the rule for that prize should be that you still have to try in order to gain the award, and although I was definitely last, I did genuinely do my best, which is a bit sad really, but also true.  In the circumstances had I claimed it that would be legitimate.  I also think if you deliberately got number one with the intention of winning and claiming that prize it would be well deserved too, so that covers both extremes of the continuum.

The sun was out, so we queued for and consumed ice creams.  Whisky and ginger was one option, I went for more traditional rum and raison the blackberry having sold out.  We had a bit more milling around, including watching some hand sheep shearing which was interesting if a bit rough around the edges at times.

It was good for people watching and run debrief.  I am glad I did the event, but I wish I’d understood a bit more what I was taking on as it was more fun in retrospect than at the time, and I had way too many clothes on.  Friendly though, very beautiful, and I absolutely lurrrrrrrved the surrounding sheep dog trials, even though I don’t know which of them were acquitted or otherwise, nor indeed why?  Though I presume these ones were found guilty:  (stole the joke, but it’s worth the rerun surely?)

guilty dogs

Nor have I worked out if sheepdog is one word or two… who knows?  Life would be dull if we knew all the answers though wouldn’t it?  By the way, if you look at the photos that follow carefully, you will spot that the one with two be-vested Smileys in the foreground has a guy behind them who looks like he’s wearing the yang vest to go with the Smiley yin.  No really, look carefully!  Clue – juxtaposition of red, black and white stripes along the side…

Eventually, sated with ice cream we wended our way back to the car park, and dispersed our separate ways home.  A succesful outing I’d say, and one to do again, but with a bit more respect for the fundamental concept of Fell running, which is that you will be required to run up, a lot, and then run down again.  It really isn’t that hard an idea to grasp if you just open your mind to it.  Actually, don’t listen to me, just  believe the evidence of your own eyes!  Through the wonders of veloviewer I bring you a graphical representation of each little detail of the gradient for the 2016 Bamford Sheepdog Trials.  Hmm, impressive eh? No wonder I felt sick going up!  I feel better now, for seeing  that!

veloviewer profile

 Learn from me…  It was also pointed out to me that I might have finished a bit faster if I hadn’t stopped to greet dogs and look at the view on the way round.  Worth thinking about I suppose.  I’m also though wondering if I should just accept my fate, and see if I can go for a fell racing hat trick by coming last at my next race outing as well.  Also, I have just found out that in cycling coming last is known as ‘lantern rouge’ which actually sounds classy.  Plus being last is an important role which someone has to take on.  In fact there is a website dedicated to the stories of runners who came last at various events.  Unfortunately, I can’t find that right now, but I have found a Runners World forum for Last Finishers Lounge, which is a start.  A fairly exclusive group I’d say…. Goals should be realistic after all, and that one is certainly teasingly within my grasp…  Watch this space.


And finally:

Photo credits to the The Jeffs who ask for donations in return for their photos to the Buxton Mountain Rescue.  (Does anyone else remember Dougal and The Blue Cat?  Wasn’t their a King Buxton The First in that).  Their photos were put up on the Fell Runners Association Facebook page.   Thanks also to the Mr Carr (or David the Divine as we like to call him) for sharing the sights seen down his telephoto lens at the Bamford Sheepdog Trials, our Generous George celebrity photographer Mr Carman for his offerings and anonymous others from whom I have borrowed or stolen with appreciation, if not always recognition.  I do try and acknowledge photographers where I can, so apologies if you have been missed.  You can tell some photos are even my own, they are the blurry ones with poor composition for ease of reference.  Many other photos have ended up on the Bamford Sheep Dog Trials facebook page, but it seems a little visited resource.  Go on, have a look, boost its visitor numbers, you may even see a snap of yourself if you were there!

If you are very lucky you may even have one with as much oomph and Chutzpah as me!  Thanks Mr Carr…

DC b&w

Categories: fell race, motivation, off road, race, running, running clubs | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

Dovedale Dashers do it en masse

Brigadoon basically.  That seems to be the location for the Dovedale Dash.  You know where I mean?  That remote Scottish village in the highlands that appears from the mist for one day every one hundred years?  Well, that’s sort of like my experience of getting to the Dovedale Dash.  It is a gorgeous setting for an off-road race, but it wasn’t easy to find through the near impenetrable fog that we had to navigate through from Sheffield to get there.  I can only assume it emerges from the mist annually, just for this cross country race that has become something of a local tradition, only to disappear again for another 364 days afterwards.

DD fb photo DD action in scenery

So, what possessed me to sign up for another off-road challenge?  Well, we all have different motivations for running.  For me, any number of factors could potentially have drawn me in: the glory of the great outdoors; building on my experiences at both the Wingerworth Wobble and the Endurer Dash; the need to exorcise my unfinished business with trails and waterways and navigation.  In actual fact, the most compelling factor in deciding to run, was the offer of a lift from someone else who was definitely going, with the added incentive of getting to meet her new squeeze who seemed to be up for coming along for the ride.  Curiosity may have killed the cat, but nosiness got this woman running, running scared, granted, but running all the same.

Oh, for any actual runners out there who have accidentally come across this post and want a bit more insight and information, the Dovedale Dash website blurb says:

The Dovedale Dash is a cross country race of 4 3/4 mile, run by 1200 to 1400 people of all abilities. The venue is the picturesque area around the village of Thorpe near Ashbourne and Dovedale in the south of the Derbyshire Peak District. The course is mainly along field paths and open ground in the valleys of the river Dove and Manifold. One of the excitements is the crossing of the rivers Dove at the well known Stepping Stones.

As is my usual race routine, I didn’t really give the matter a great deal of extra thought beyond having agreed to go.  I read in a recently passed on copy of Women’s Running Magazine, that sleep is a very important part of training.  Why would anyone risk sleepless nights of stressful angst considering what it is you are about to undertake, when you can hide under a duvet ignoring the inevitable and hoping it might go away?

The morning of the race dawned.  I did my usual weather check of looking out of the window first – it was VERY foggy, and then opening it and sticking my arm out to check for temperature.  This didn’t really help greatly.  I couldn’t make up my mind what to wear.  My ‘usual’ long sleeved outfit offers a bit of protection when out running, and has a handy zip pocket for, I don’t know, Parkrun barcode, keys, emergency flares, that kind of thing.  On the other hand, it was pretty warm doing Parkrun yesterday, and if I’ve got my Smiley vest on over the top then maybe short sleeved is the way to go.  I went for short sleeves, hoiked on Smiley vest as well, positioned my newly acquired bib-magnets (that have now found their way to me) and was ready for off.  The choice of running shoes was a given (off-roaders) and I’ve only got one pair of useable leggings – sorry ‘running tights’ anyway.  (Why tights by the way?  They clearly aren’t, and no matter how inclusive Parkrun is I think you’d get some stares if you wore actual tights to take part in that weekly 5km let alone a cross country race).  I grabbed my bat deely-boppers as an afterthought.  Fancy dress is encouraged, and it would be nice to give them another outing.  Went out to car, and then immediately rushed back in again to pick up my long-sleeved as well just in case…

I did short drive to rendezvous with another running buddy, and together we went round to our designated Driver for the day.  I sat in the back as although I can get a bit car sick, the other passenger looked more likely to heave en route.  Travelling in the back of a car as an adult is weird.  I automatically revert to child mode.  Eavesdropping on the grown ups in the front seat whilst staring at the back of the headrest in front, and going suddenly quiet, like a budgie that’s had a tea-towel chucked over it’s cage.  There were hints of loveliness as orange, red and gold covered trees emerged from mist, and occasional shafts of morning light shone through like spotlights, however, as we drove onward the mist deepened and pretty soon it became actual fog, and I was really glad I’d got my long-sleeved top with me as well.  We scooped up sleep-deprived partner of driver on the way, and wended our way towards Dovedale. We must have got into some sort of dip, because it was seriously poor visibility now ‘I hope we don’t have to navigate on the hills’  observed our most experienced fell runner.  Oh crap.  That had never even crossed my mind!  Given how lost I got following a trail that was set out by someone who claimed that they came from the perspective of someone who needs satnav to get upstairs in their house (wobbling round Wingerworth), I didn’t fancy being lost in the hills of Derbyshire until same time next year when the route re-appeared.  I could feel my nerve failing, and as we started to think we were lost, circling endlessly roads that were surely near the start but seeing no actual sign of it, I began to think abandoning the whole idea in favour of a pub lunch really wasn’t such a bad alternative option to pursue.

We did find the start.  Signs to the car park and suddenly it was like we’d got to a country agricultural show.  Huge fields set aside for cars, efficient attendants waving us in, a little trio of portaloos (no queue, that can’t be right) and a slide across some wet grass to get parked.  Ooh, and LOTS of people.  Where did they all come from.  I think I immediately swopped into my long sleeved top, finding that I’d already lost two of my four magnet pairs during the drive to get there.  Bit disappointing, but I was in possession of some emergency safety pin supplies so all was not lost.  After a brief marvel at the distinctive conical hill we traipsed over to a white marquee to register.  You can only register on the day, and we’d expected this to be a bit chaotic.  It was not.  It was genius, the most seamless registration ever.  They’d written in bold letters on the canopy of the tent which queue was which (adult female, adult male, children’s race whatever) and you simply turned up, handed over your fiver, scribbled your name and club (no emergency contact details required – presumably a few lost runners aren’t a big issue when you have up to 1300 taking part, and the organisers can’t be really held accountable if the venue is going to disappear back into the mist in a couple of hours anyway).  The whole thing only took a couple of minutes.

 DD stunning location 1 nov 2015

The three of us delightedly admired our numbers.  It was magical.   Almost at this very moment the sun burst through, and the landscape emerged in all it’s magnificence.  I also got a bit of a heads up on the tricks employed by more elite runners.  I am prepared to share at least one with you because it is genius, and as far as I am aware not bound by the same secrecy codes as say the Magic Circle.   Basically, you get your number and … stay with me, it is counter intuitive but it will be OK .. you scrunch it up into a little ball!  No really!  It sounds weird, and indeed on witnessing my companions doing this I did feel it looked like sacrilege of some sort, but it’s a very clever tip. If you do this, pre-crease your number, it keeps it flatter against your body, so it doesn’t billow out in the wind when running.  Now I can’t be sure if the tip is to help you be more aerodynamic in terms of speed, to prevent number loss whilst running, or just an aesthetical precaution, but it was pretty splendid to be let in on the club.  I too scrumpled my number with gusto before securing it in place with remaining two magnets and a couple of safety pins.  As I did so I looked pityingly across to the more amateur runners who were trying to keep their numbers all neat – such ignorance and inexperience, still one day they too  will learn for themselves.  What a great day for them that will be.

We spent a bit of time watching the children’s race .  These were seriously impressive kids.  There was enthusiastic, and rather personal, announcements giving a run down of the finishers as they approached the line.  I don’t know in what capacity the woman giving the excellent and exciting commentary knew them all.  Possibly a school teacher (‘little Sky spent three years with me’) but she might have been a child snatcher that they were all running away from which is why they appeared to sprint so darned fast.  They were amazing.  Some were only four or five year’s old, and yet donned in onesies they charged up a steep hill directly into the sun through a cheering throng of supporters.  Some got a bit lost at the end, confused by the crowd, diverging path and disorientating bright sun, they stumbled off in all directions, only to be shepherded back towards the funnel by benign observers.  I genuinely felt quite emotional watching it.  The determination of the runners, the people watching willing them to success and the sheer unadulterated innocent joy of it all was fabulous to behold.  Even so, we got a bit bored eventually and went off to the loos, which by now did have a pretty substantial queue.

Then back to the car, where I had to change out of my long sleeved top and back into my short-sleeved one again, and we took time to have our photo together.  It is only on seeing the photo afterwards that I come to concede the deely-boppers may have been a mistake.  My running buddy maintains they do aid with identification, but I’m thinking maybe some sort of standard like they used to carry in Caesar’s army might be better.  We could then also have left it by the car so we wouldn’t have had to spend 15 minutes racing up and down all the lines of vehicles trying to find it later on, when we all went back to the car to change ready for the race and realised not one of us had remembered where it had been parked..

pre race team photo Dovedale Dash 1 Nov 2015

There was still a bit of time, so we had a look at the course map and then chatted to a few other Smileys who were also there which was a nice surprise.  I had to have another precautionary pee, and in the queue met someone who knows someone in Smileys so that was companionable.  I then joined the Smiley cohort at the start.  One shared another top tip known by experienced runners.  Rather than queuing for the loo, earlier on she had taken the opportunity to head off to the hedgerows, but (and this is the clever bit) not wishing to bring her running club into disrepute if spotted, had pulled her Smiley vest up to cover the name before relieving herself.  She did get her arse stung by nettles though, so I’m not quite sure she has perfected the art to be honest, but still a technique to emulate in principle.

Dovedale Dash course

So the eleventh hour drew near.  I found myself at the top of a hill, part of a churning crowd of 1300 runners, some in fancy dress, some with dogs, some – bizarrely – with laden rucksacks (they were mainly guys in camouflage, so I’m thinking it was probably an exercise in endurance rather than full of sandwiches for the half-way point), and some practically in flip flops.  It is hard to describe what it is like being in that crush as the shout goes up for ‘off!’  You have to just go with it, holding your breath and hurling yourself downward. Even at the back it was quite scary, and some of the faster runners reported seeing a fair few people tumbling, somersaulting or doing various face plants within a few metres of the start.  My problem with running down hill is that I just built up forward momentum with gravity, and trying to stop or slow feels more dangerous than running onwards, but it was terrifying.  You have to not be discouraged by the casualties you have to bound over en route down, and hope the first aiders in their green cross adorned four by four vehicle will come and scrape them up later.  This photo is a distant shot of the mass start, you can see the white registration tent and then to the left of it the river of people charging downwards to the river…

Crazy stampede of 1300 at the start!

Crazy stampede of 1300 at the start!

At the base of the hill there’s a left turn and it evened out a bit, but you still had to scramble over the ground as the path, such as it was, was muddy in places and anyway, too narrow to accommodate everyone.  You can hear shrieks ahead as people encounter The River.  Charmingly, the race notes tell you that this is known to be the coldest river in Derbyshire.  Oh joy.  In sight of the crossing you can see hoards of people on the banks, some with cameras and mobile phones held high in order to record the inevitable carnage that follows.  I’ve used the analogy before, but really and truly, you do feel like part of a herd of wildebeest crossing a river on migration, not all of you will survive, but through simple dint of numbers the majority surely must.  It is survival of the fittest, some will be picked off by crocodiles or currents, but others will overcome.  In fact, looking at the quite brilliant YouTube video of the event (search Dovedale Dash 2015 for yourself, I’m not risking falling foul of their broadcasting fee), you also see a few acts of selfless humanity.  Runners stopping to heave out a fallen comrade, or people at the bank hauling a distressed dog out of the waters before runners and dogs alike squelch off and away again.

dd delia in the throng!

There is definitely an element of relief at having survived the river crossing, and this does temporarily distract from the fact that you’ve now got to run the rest of the route with your shoes full of water.  You can hear the sploshing of other runners feet around you.  The water was cold, but strangely it makes you feel great when you come out the other side.  Also, it wasn’t too deep, so no wet knickers, well not from the river crossing anyway, I can’t promise a few people hadn’t already wet themselves in terror at the start.

still running 1 nov 2015 Dovedale Dash

It’s so hard to describe the route. It was gorgeous, very muddy in places, sometimes way too muddy to run at all, you just had to pick your way through.  We went through fields with cattle and young calves that seemed unphased by the runners hurtling by.  We passed through a village at one point where people on the bridge clapped encouragingly as I went by.  There were a few snatched conversations with other runners, groups in fancy dress, people commenting on my Smiley Paces top ‘are you running for charity?’ one enquired, clearly my expression hinted I couldn’t possibly be doing this for fun!  I got used to seeing more ambitious runners skidding down slopes and ending up variously on their backs, faces or other runners, so I freely admit I ended up walking some of the more scary mudfest bits.

DD river of people

Some bits were undulating grassland, other trails were rocky footpaths and there was a section along the river bed where you could splosh in and out of the water.  That was quite a good idea because you could try and get rid of some of the mud that was by then accessorising shoes and legs way more than one might have wished.  Feet of clay made manifest, it’s is really, really hard to walk, let alone run, when you have half the earth of Derbyshire cemented to your feet.

The desire to cleanse my shoes was given an extra urgency because the one part of the course that brought real horror was a bit where you had no option but to pass through a gateway that even from a distance you could see was awash with liquid mud.   I am pretty game for getting muddy, but plunging through the midst of this, and feeling the splash back that inevitably followed, it was obvious this was not just any mud, this was slurry.  The real deal, l was awash with cow manure more than I expected or appreciated.  I daresay it’s good for the skin, but that offered little consolation.   Added to the horror of this was that I feared my trainers might be coming loose, but I didn’t really fancy reaching down to adjust them just at that moment.  I’m not generally squeamish, happy to eat my sandwiches after mucking out some stables (horse or alpaca) without washing my hands, but this was a bit too much, it was the dripping I think, not nice.    Oh, what the hell, it’ll be fine….

So sploshing onwards, it was great to emerge from the worst of the mud and back alongside the river where we’d originally crossed, even if it did mean we’d have to heave ourselves back up that hill, at least the end was in sight.  It was a tough finish,  you are running right into the sun, and with the mess of spectators it wasn’t at all clear where the end actually was – eventually a silhouetted figure called out to me ‘The end is nigh’ or possibly ‘the finish is here!’ I got confused.  I headed towards the voice, and a friendly race marshal said ‘you’ve done it, it’s over!’  yay, I was so happy.  There was a bit of a bottle neck into the funnel system, which had a queue that turned back on itself like that one in Shrek when donkey and Shrek are going into the theme park whose name I can’t remember.  I was happy enough to dawdle at this point.  In any case, inevitably all the other Smileys were home before me, so they were also waiting by the funnel.  I filed through the funnel, got my number added to the list being produced by a clipboard holding official, grabbed a certificate, and joined the others.  We had a few posing for photo moments, but I don’t know what happened to those shots, so you’ll have to just use your imagination for now until they catch up with me.

From my perspective the Dovedale Dash was a friendly if somewhat frenetic event, brilliantly organised, and I’m pretty sure they say somewhere in the small print that the sun always shines for the annual outing.    They might have said that, or there might have been something about icebergs and hail, I can’t quite recall.  Same time next year will be 6th November 2016, so put it in your diary.

So after a bit of faffing, back to the car – a bit easier to locate second time around – we had the foresight to have brought a change of clothes with us, but did have a bit of bucket envy as we saw other runners had had even greater foresight and had gallons of water and washing basins in which to deposit their slurry encased footwear.  We made do with plastic bags.

The drive back was uneventful, and back in Sheffield my running buddy piled me up with home made sourdough as well as pear and chocolate cake so I could return to my flat and enjoy them both.  I could not have felt more indulged if I’d been given a crate of Ferrero Roche in which to bathe.  I did spend a great deal longer cleaning the mud off my trail shoes than I had actually running the race.  It was worth it though.  I stuck my shoes on the roof outside my attic window in order that they could dry in the sun.  I then promptly forgot all about them until two days later when I retrieved them sodden with fog, rain and imbued with the scent of Autumn bonfires.  Oh well,  I’m sure they’ll dry out eventually  ….

Incidentally, I never shared with you my pre-event goal.  This time my objective was to complete the run without losing my trail shoes in the mud en route.  Reader, this I accomplished.  Finally, my running is improving, I may yet reach future goals!

set goals and demolish

Categories: fell race, off road, running, running clubs | Tags: , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Beating the wobbles and bringing ballast to the back – Wingerworth Wobble fell race

Wingerworth Wobble – bring it on!

Seriously though, what’s the worst that can happen?

official hill run 6 Wingerworth wobble

I expect they’ll be begging to use me as the poster girl for this event next year!

Today was the Wingerworth Wobble, my first fell race.  Eek.  I found the optimism I’d felt when I first entered had pretty much evaporated by this morning leaving only apprehension in its wake. I was fixated on the prefix ‘fell’ in front of the equally unappealing ‘Race’ and the inclusion of the little detail of information ‘including a 600 foot elevation’.  What was I thinking?  What possessed me?  I didn’t sleep well (Nerves? This is madness, running is supposed to be fun!)  It was a lovely autumn morning, but wow, a definite nip in the air.   Confidence is a fragile thing, it was definitely ebbing at that moment…

I gave myself my very own pep talk.  See spoiler above ‘seriously though, what’s the worse that can happen?’  After all,  It’s not like I can get lost – the organiser has promised it’s signposted really clearly, and I can’t come last either, as there is a back marker.   Great for ego, guaranteed to be ahead of someone – so I won’t spend all eternity abandoned on the hills, or mysteriously snatched away/ disappeared like that character in ‘Picnic at Hanging Rock’ (only in a colder climate, obviously).

I idly perused my running club Facebook page for words of encouragement.  I see another has ‘come out’ as wobbling along and suggests we travel together.  This is a good plan, I am a bit in awe, as I am a shite runner, barely worthy of the adjective, and she is a really good one.  I worry she’ll be hanging around for me ages at the end, surrounded by nothing but tumbleweed and mist as dusk falls, shivering, and staring out into the night wondering where I could possibly be.  Still, it will be companionable traveling together and indeed it is – though I talk too much because I am nervous. She shares running tips en route and topics include a debrief of a particularly good running talk on female urinary incontinence.  All those precautionary pre-event pees are poor practise in relation to preserving  our pelvic floor apparently.  This may be, but I know I’ll be seeking out the loo as soon as we reach the venue.  Probably more than once actually – is that just me …?

We arrive ridiculously early – my  paranoia, but it is already lovely as soon as we arrive.  Wingerworth is very scenic, especially in Autumn colours.  It’s a misty start, but sun is hinting it may yet emerge.  It is quite an easy run out from Sheffield, (I mean as in  ‘run out in the car’ not as in running on your feet though)  and running HQ is totally awesome.  It is a primary school, where there are lovely colourful hand-made signs, lovingly written out in felt-tip pen by local children.  It’s very sweet.  The hall is nothing like I remember from my school days, there is no smell of cabbage and the floor is brilliantly shiny, with very impressive (but unexplained) large elephant paintings all around.  Having this area to register allows for other innovations, there are proper toilets with toilet paper, a raffle, tea and coffee, a laptop with projector set up to display the results ‘live’.  It is all very impressive.  People are friendly – this could be OK!

I also get my first sighting of the fancy dress contingent.  I say fancy dress, but it could be more accurately described as a celebrity couple and their celebrity entourage – you decide.  In any event, I felt excited, but seriously under-dressed.  I actually meet Miss Piggy in the loos!  Wow, I can hardly breathe I am so star struck! celebrity couplecelebrity hiding out in wood

Exciting eh? Mingling with the stars!  Miss Piggy especially was a childhood idol of mine, sigh, who knew what perks running (however half-heartedly) might bring?  I think that other guy must be their minder.  A specially trained bodyguard who has to keep up with them out on their runs.

Anyway, I digress, we collect our numbers, and then loiter pre-start.  There are a lot of very fit looking runners.   I will definitely be at the back of this lot.  We chatter lightly.  I tell an anecdote (probably exaggerated for comic effect) about a fellow runner who told me about one of her fell runs when she started to notice that the people in front of her were suddenly picking up speed and waving their arms around on a long stretch of path ahead.  It was only when she got their herself that she realised the runners had disturbed a wasps nest (or was it bees?) and the insects were exacting their brutal, if justified revenge!  How we laughed.  Not expecting any wasps on this run!  I kid you not, seconds later we get insider knowledge from one of the event photographers…  It seems a local landowner has apparently put cattle with their calves in a field we have to cross.  ‘Best just stick to the hedge as a precaution’, he advises.  Oh dear, I think I’d rather have to deal with angry wasps – though outrunning a raging bull or protective cow would potentially transform my running speeds and I reckon I’d accelerate quite significantly – time to think in terms of ‘half-full not half-empty’ methinks.

I take the precaution of not looking at the route in advance, it will only depress me.  My fellow smiley and I have a gentle couple of hundred metres run as a token warm up.  I’ve never bothered with this before, but it does actually seem to help remind my legs what they are supposed to be doing, rather than wear me out, which is a pleasant surprise.

We gather outside some gates that look like they lead to a posh private dwelling.  There is a brief warning about the cows again (oh dear), and then we are off.  It is straight up a hill, a lot of hill actually.  Can anyone explain to me how it is that every race with an incline always seems to operate on a perpetual uphill principle.  Surely the law of averages requires the occasional downward slant.

Quickly I am overtaken by just about everyone, some of the seriously fleet of foot disappear over the skyline within seconds. However, I can sense I am a couple of hundred yards ahead of the backmarker.  I decide that will be my goal for the day.  Try to keep ahead of them.  This is not due to any particularly competitive streak, it is rather because I have a fear that if I slip into the rear position, then I may have to engage in cheery banter with the backmarker who I can hear is laughing and chatting away with her running companions.  I can’t yet talk and run at the same time.  Anti social (and somewhat pathetic) I know, but true.  If I end up at the back, I’ll also end up either walking so I can talk, or trying to run and talk simultaneously, which always seems to result in me falling over.

The race is 4.5 miles, and it’s lovely.  More an off-road trail course than a fell race as such, but I find that reassuring given my level of experience.  There are friendly marshals everywhere, cheering on, and pointing the path ahead.  We pass through fields, and wooded areas, I can smell bracken and fallen leaves.  It is lovely – apart from the running bit obviously. I do give in to walking at the edge of a ploughed field, it’s too muddy for me.  I can see ahead other runners are also walking and that makes me feel that this is a legitimate tactic.  Periodically I find fallen green feathers that have come off Miss Piggy’s feather boa.  I consider scooping these up to sell on eBay later, but think the better of it.  After a bit the other runners have pulled ahead of me out of sight, but I can hear the backmarkers behind.  I suddenly felt I got into a rhythm running, and it felt great.  I was pounding along, feeling the miles fall away almost effortlessly.  It’s amazing, it is slightly disappointing when I realise actually all that’s happened is that the uphill bit has stopped and I’ve got a good run downhill a last.  Oh well, it was good while it lasted.

I found myself running alone through a wooded area.  On entering it the  health and safety conscious Wobblers had put a helpful sign up saying ‘warning uneven ground’.  Actually it wasn’t too bad, I think it would have been more helpful to have signs ahead of the hills saying ‘warning, stressful incline’ but what do I know?  Left to my own devices I inevitably ended up walking, my default position is inert rather than active to be honest.  That was of course, until I spotted a photographer ahead.  I suddenly found inner strength to put on a show.  I adopted my best running ‘pose’ and conceding I’d been caught red-handed slacking, called out to him to make sure that he did know that it was his job to make it look like I’d been running the whole time.  He was gracious enough to laugh, say yes he did, and then tell me when it was OK to carry on walking again as I was out of his photo range.  I’m not proud, that’s how it is in my world.  Maybe not a flattering shot, but at least I look like I was moving!  Thank you Robert Scriven.

me running in woods

Emerging from the woods, water came around the half way point.  Onwards, following scattered boa feathers as well as the carefully positioned large orange arrows,  and red and white tape strategically hung in the trees and I was feeling quite confident I would in fact make it, and not be last and not get lost.  Never saw the cattle in the field, don’t know what happened to them.  I followed the path with an extra spurt – not far to go now, I’d been over-taken by one other runner who’d been trailing me most of the way, but psychologically I wanted to keep the distance between me and the back markers.  so I headed through what turned out to be the final bit of woodland, and then hit a river!  Well, more of a stream than a river to be honest, but definitely a ‘you’re going to get wet crossing this’ sort of challenge.  I was really confused.  No-one had mentioned a river crossing, but the path was clearly signed to it, but then the markers seemed to mysteriously disappear.  Adding to my general discombobulation (sorry, just wanted to get that word in really) I could hear cheers from the finish line, but couldn’t see it.  I followed a path out of the woods, but there were no further signs, I double backed to check the markers, but they were clear.  Then suddenly I got it, and inwardly smiled – ‘this is what off-road running is all about – plunging through water, and charging across the countryside’,  I congratulated myself for having cracked it.  This was clearly an in joke by the Wingerworth Wobblers.  They obviously don’t tell newbies, keeping it as surprise sting in the tail at the end of the run.  A sort of initiation perhaps!  I will complete the run soaked but victorious and renewed, having completed a sort of off road running baptism.  Besides, I vaguely remembered seeing something on the Wobblers Facebook page – linking to the ‘Run Britain’ website, that referred to  a ‘spot prize for the best river crossing’ clearly this was it.  I splashed through triumphant.  And ended up in dense woodland, gallumphing around in search of a path.  This was not going according to plan, defeated, I plunged back through the stream, then having rechecked the signs repeated this to and fro a few more times, before I had to concede that I was lost.  I was like one of those blind dogs you see sometimes, frantically trying to return to their calling owner, but hopelessly misdirected in terms of where it is heading.

Eventually,  I retraced my steps much further,  hoping to see the backmarkers, but time had passed, they were nowhere in sight, if I had been on the right path they would surely have caught me up by now.  I ventured across a small bridge, and there saw a great crowd at the top of an alarmingly steep grassy hill.  I was so relieved to see the end in sight, that I found my little legs put on quite a sprint.  This was a big miscalculation on my part, as the hill was long and steep, and there were people watching.  Every runner knows that it is really important to pretend that you are running with ease when others are watching, especially at the finish.  I honestly thought I’d die, dragging my weary carcass up that hill.

Oh the glamour of running.  Don’t I just make it look effortless and elegant (rhetorical question)!  With particular thanks to David Carr for taking these shots and allowing me to use them – I’ve promised him lots of celebrity referrals once I go viral from having made it in the blogosphere, hope he’s ready for a long wait…

official hill run 1   official hill run 2     official hill lrun 3

official hill run 5  official hill run 6   official hill run 7

My running club buddy came down the hill to run the last bit with me which was lovely.  The organising committee seemed to be there as one to greet me, I was quite touched… though I think on reflection, it was more a cheer of relief that went up for my safe return (think of the paperwork if you lose a few runners on the day), rather than a cheer of admiration at my uphill running technique (which is unique it’s true, but not something to emulate).  I quickly realised, they’d been panicking a bit, the back-marker was long time home (well, a few minutes anyway, and because she’d known I was ahead of her they really couldn’t understand how I got lost.  Nor could I to be honest, I was a bit embarrassed, but cheered by my medal.  Yay, bling, sponsored by Peak Cables, I was a bit disappointed it wasn’t actually made of cabling, but it was quite a heavy duty one, result.  Mission accomplished.

The organisers were still waiting for other returners, but they turned out to not be out there at all, so I can report that the worst did happen.  Both of them.  That is, I accomplished the seemingly impossible double whammy of both finishing last and getting lost.  However, I can also report that this didn’t matter at all.  I still had a great time, and a great sense of achievement.  The race organisers went into Miss Marple mode to investigate where I’d got lost, and discovered that someone had mischievously moved the markers at the end to lay a false trail, which made me feel better.  It only affected me because, presumably, everyone else was either in sight of another runner or already knew the route so didn’t really notice them.  Good to have it explained though, I had wondered how on earth I’d gone so far astray.

I like to think that without those extra minutes in the wood I’d have come in about the 56 minute mark, as it was my official time was 62 but I honestly don’t care.  Not going for a steward’s enquiry on this occasion.

So, back to HQ attractive plastic bags on our feet to cover our trail shoes (the wobblers have thought of everything, providing these in abundance for the use of runners, free gratis too – no 5p charges here!), raffle drawn, prize giving, all in a worthy cause.  Coffee, companionable chat, home.

post race chit chat

So Wingerworth Wobblers, I salute you!  What great ambassadors you are for that North East Derbyshire village.  It was a friendly, welcoming supportive day.  Well organised, great attention to detail and a good laugh too.  What’s not to like?  Thank you too to my fellow Smileys for your encouragement and grace in keeping me going!

Elizabeth Carr Smiley  ruth smiley

Just waiting for the rest of the photos to come in now, and the stiffness to set in, but it was so worth it.  Another win for ‘feel the fear and do it anyway!’  Get me, running free, not to mention achieving two impossible things in just one morning!  Result.

Categories: motivation, off road, running, running clubs | Tags: , , , , | 23 Comments

Feeling Wobbly

Maybe I got a bit carried away with all the excitement over getting into the Percy Pud yesterday, but I seem to have accidentally entered this as well now:Wingerworth wobbleI’d been umming and ahing about it for a while.  I like off road running, it’s just I’m really, really bad at it.  This though sounds sort of achieveable, I mean 4.5 miles isn’t so very far is it?  And it isn’t very expensive to enter and it’s in a good cause too…  Anyway, I emailed the race organisers a couple of days ago, basically saying, I’ve never done a fell race before, will I die in the attempt or get lost at altitude/ be left behind for all eternity, and do I need ‘proper’ kit.  I have friends who do this kind of thing and are always fossicking around for whistles, waterproof trousers  and Kendal mint cake at the last minute….  Anyway, I got back such a lovely welcoming email from the race organiser, encouraging me to ‘give it a go’ and telling me there is a friendly backmarker to boot , that before I’d really thought it through I’d entered.

Wingerworth Wobblers – that sounds such a friendly approachable sort of club.  Wobbly is soft and cuddly not hard and angry.  The picture on the event poster is a bit more intimidating.  That guy has less hair on his legs than I do, so presumably waxes to achieve the go-faster goal of paring seconds of his finish time.  I also note he is running in a vest top, not a duffle coat, so I’m thinking he must work up a bit more of a sweat than I do when running.  Oh dear.  Perhaps I need to up my game.

I’m supposed to be doing a 10k in about 10 days, so I really ought to be able to manage about 7.5, or whatever it is, at this stage.  The thing is, I do really want to do it, but I’m a bit scared.  I don’t know anyone else doing this, although I do know there will be other Smiley participants, all fleeter of foot and finer of frame, but nothing ventured I suppose.  If I want to get fitter (I’ve given up hope of ever getting any faster) then I need to commit to these challenges.  The thing that is really sapping my morale is that when I signed up on the website it was glorious sunshine  outside.  The sun hitting the orange and yellow leaves on the trees made it look like burnished gold or dense flames out of the window.  Gorgeous Autumnal colours and sunshine, that anyone would want to rush outside and enjoy.  Since I hit the ‘pay’ button, torrential rain has lashed on the velux windows of my attic flat.  I feel my enthusiasm ebbing away from me by the second.

Oh well, it wont be the first time I’ve turned up at an event with more apprehension than optimism, let’s find out what I’m capable of, for better or worse!  I will wear my Smiley Vest, and hope to parasitize the crowds of supporters who have come to cheer others in the Smiley family.  I will need all the sympathetic cheers I can get….

Categories: fell race, off road, running | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Blog at

%d bloggers like this: