Windy Gyle fell race

104 people took on this stunning cross-border raid into Scotland on a perfect day for fellrunning.  You know it’s going to be a remote one when the race organiser informs you that the nearest toilets are five miles away from the start (bushes notwithstanding) and that the start point is by the ‘sheep pens 500 metres from the remote farmhouse’.  But remote often translates as wild and beautiful and sure enough, this lovely spot made for a great place for like minded souls to meet and have a good run out.

Duly assembled, 13 Polyfellers tackled the 8.5 mile circuit to the distant summit of Windy Gyle, which sits 400 metres behind the border fence that bisects the Cheviot Hills.  It’s a beautiful route with short cropped grass making for a runnable circuit that certainly counts as a lung-buster.

It’s fair to say the Poly did themselves proud, winning both the mens and ladies team prizes from a clutch of other local clubs that were well represented.  We’re making our mark!

Scott Ellis was 3rd man home and along with Gary Robson (5th and 1 second behind fellrunning legend Colin Donnely whose famous traverse of the Welsh 3000’ers is a stunning achievement) and Jon Heaney (14th) made up the winning team.

Katherine Davies had a splendid run to finish 3rd lady and first lady vet in 34th place overall.  Debutant Angela Green (70th) made short work of those pre-race nerves and positively bounced over the line shouting, “I LOVED IT!”.  Rumour has it that some shopping was even done during the descent… Rachel Inman (79th) racked up yet another fellrace and completed our winning ladies team (sorry Rachel, couldn’t find a photo of you).

But pride rightly extends beyond those whose talents put them up into the prizes, with dogged veterans of and fearless newcomers to the dark side all putting in some graft whilst donning the club vest.

George Adamson was 100th runner home, for example, toughing it out all the way and yet making it look waaaay to easy.

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Welcome returns were made by Michael Kane (52nd) after months of knee trouble and Chris Oliphant (75th) after his Yorkshire 3 Peaks disappointment (which I’m not sure I’m allowed to mention, come to think of it).  Great to see them here anyhow.

Richard Hanley (47th) and Mark Smith (40th) made progress in as far as they didn’t sustain race ruining falls this time around whilst Graham Lewis-Dale continued his high placings with a strong, if a little errant, run to come in 21st.  Ankle issues saw Chris Lowe sensibly back off and yet still finish 27th. Lee Gillian (93rd) completed our line-up.

This race is what I would say the sport is all about. Simple and intuitive route, obvious objective, cheap (£5) and entry on the day.  Low-tech (the entries were taken by Phil Green in his car driving seat on the start line) and non-profit, with mountain rescue taking the £400 proceeds.

Phil Green of NFR did a superb job in organising this race and as Angela will testify, it’s a perfect race for debutants. I would add that it’s a great race for wizened fellrunners too.

This was the 6th race in the Poly Championships.  The next outing is the infamous Chevy Chase, the 20 miler that everyone up here has to do at least once so I am informed.  See you there on 2 July!

Mark

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Carlton Murky Midsummer Meander

There’s usually something magical about mid-week fell races – a real treat after a day at work and a chance to blow off the cobwebs. June is obviously the peak of the midweek fell racing season and it’s possible to race several times each week for a golden couple of months.

Sadly, there was nothing golden about this cracking little race, with visibility down to 40 metres and a very wetting mizzle settling in by the time the start time arrived.  I can attest that this was not the occasion to a) forget your map, b) wear glasses because your contacts were knackered and c) race somewhere you have never ever been before.

Needless to say, I got totally lost and added time and distance to the route, a route I would love to be able to describe in detail to you.  4 miles (4.6 for me) of racing in the murk was a great workout but next time I’m going to do it properly, as DJ did.

2 Polyfellers ran, one of which did it properly.

David finished in 59th in 57:26 whilst I managed 41st in 52:05.

Mark Smith

The Duddon Valley Fell Race – My First Lake District Classic

I had been running for about 10 months and had just successfully done the 12 mile Gisborough Moors fell race, my first “Long” class race and I thought that perhaps I should try something a little harder. Oh and before you armchair fell runners out there say anything, I fully realise I’m stretching the meaning of the word “successfully” by applying it to a bottom 15% finish, but in my defence I am pretty crap at this lark. Anyway, I scanned the fixtures list and my eyes fastened on the Duddon Valley Fell Race, a big 18 mile, 6500 ascent race which incorporated the option of a more reasonable 10 mile race. This seemed a good option and so plans were laid.

duddon jpgNow there isn’t much accommodation in the Duddon valley and I had no transport so this was going to be my first camping trip in nearly 10 years. I splashed out and bought a new lightweight tent, a Terra Nova Sololite which proved to be excellent value at under £100 You could also describe it as quite roomy, but if you were one of the Snow White’s associates. I arranged for a friend to pick me up at the nearest railway station and all seemed set fair, until a fortnight before the off I picked up a groin injury. It wasn’t enough to stop me running but being realistic I resigned myself to doing the 10 miler instead. There was always next year for the big one and to tell you the truth I was secretly relieved about this.

The weekend of the race soon came around and I left Newcastle on Friday on the 10.24 train from Newcastle and changed at Carlisle onto a train bound for Barrow which made an unhurried, meandering way down the West Cumbrian coast. I alighted at Foxfield, (excellent pub), where Steve “Merrylegs” Foster, was waiting to pick me up. It was a lovely late spring afternoon when we arrived at Turner Hall Farm where I was introduced to Steve’s wife and his two kids and their enormous castle of a tent. The camp site was the fullest I had ever seen it and it was lucky I had such a small tent. In the early evening Derek and Gerry Dewhurst appeared in their mobile home, or rather their mobile pub as it was popularly known.

We met another friend, Ian who was also camping and had a meal in the pub and afterwards I also ate the pasta I brought along as well, just to be on the safe side, carb-wise. There was plenty of talk of the long race and when I turned in my resolve to do the shorter race was beginning to crumble.

Race Day. Turner Hall Farm Camp-site

When I awoke at 6am after an excellent night’s sleep it was already warm and sunny. I breakfasted on several wholemeal rolls and a bowl of cornflakes. I noticed that Steve was drinking lots of water and I followed suit. At 9.30am George Bate aka “The Master” a moniker earned by his prodigious amount of posting on the FRA forums ,appeared with the eagerly awaited new white Fell Pony Club vests, and very smart they looked too. He wasn’t racing because of a calf injury which surprised me because I didn’t know he kept any livestock.

I had a last short jog round the camp-site and worryingly my leg felt fine for the first time in a fortnight. I was now doubly unsure of which race to do and so I asked the others what they thought, fully expecting them to suggest that in view of my inexperience, the short race would be the best option. To my surprise and to a man they told me to do the long race. I soon learned never to ask such a question again, because if there is one thing that several years of running has taught me, it is that experienced runners always have a very inflated idea of the capabilities of their less experienced brethren

Anyway, today with confidence boosted by the dodgy endorsements of my friends I decided to throw caution to the wind and enter the long race. At 18 miles it was 6 miles further than anything else I’d ever ran and with twice the ascent too, so it was a bit of a gamble to say the least. After registering at the village hall, I wandered through the woods to the starting field and met Karl Edwards, known as Ambrosia Kid because of the amount of rice pudding he ate on his Bob Graham round, who took a team photo. It was already very hot and we sheltered under trees to try and keep cool. George offered to carry some water up for people and said he would be up near Swirl Howe later on. I gave him one of my bottles.

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All to soon we were on our way. After leaving the starting field the route follows a boulder strewn farm track bordered by a dry stone wall and it was here that disaster struck for Gerry. She tripped and had the bad luck to bang her head on the wall. She was visibly groggy as Steve and I stopped and helped her up. She told us to go on which we did just as soon as a bystander came and took care of her. When we set off again Steve quipped, “Well, there go our chances of winning!”

Steve soon pulled ahead but I just kept plodding gently along by Wallowbarrow Crag before turning to go up the first climb of the day, Harter Fell. My plan was to take it nice and steady on the climbs to keep something back for the flat and the downhill bits later in the race and I arrived on the summit after 56 minutes feeling reasonably fresh.  I had a good run down to the Hardknott Pass road and although I didn’t know it this point marked the end of the days enjoyment, at least as far as the race was concerned.

The next climb up to The Knott (1 hour 30 minutes), passed off uneventfully and now I turned due East as the race makes a beeline for the next hill and you run down into the depths of Mosedale. This enjoyable interlude is tempered by the knowledge of what comes next. From the valley the race takes a direct line up the badly misnamed Little Stand which is, to use the technical fell running term, “a real bastard” as even a cursory glance at the narrowly spaced contour lines should tell you. It just keeps coming at you. Thankfully by the time I reached it, the sun had disappeared behind some clouds which for a while threatened to provide what would have been some welcome rain. But threaten rain was all they did and the sun came out again on the descent to the Three Shires Stone.

Half way along this rather meandering, undulating descent, somewhere about the 9 mile mark, I began to struggle and struggle really badly. I was even struggling to keep moving when I was going downhill, something which rarely improves your morale. Drinking and eating made no difference. The feeling that I just could not go any further began to take hold and the mere thought of having to tackle the looming 1400 foot climb up to Swirl Howe appalled me. And so as the road at the Three Shire’s Stone came into view I made a decision. I was going to pack it in. I would say that as well as being simply knackered, my groin was hurting again and I felt that with this added impediment I couldn’t go any further.

Approaching the road crossing, I may even have assumed a slight limp, I was certainly shaking my head in a resigned sort of way when I heard voices I recognised. It was Gerry and Derek. Gerry seemed to sense my mood because she yelled out something like “Pull yourself together, just keep going you lazy F***er ”. Derek, being more of a gentleman in all senses of the word, gave me a drink of orange juice. Far from encouraging me, I rather resented their intervention, because now I felt I had to go on with it and so resigning myself to my fate I reluctantly started on the long climb up to Swirl Howe.

After a hundred yards or so I was once again wallowing in self pity because no matter how slow I went I just felt more and more wrecked. Just as I was thinking that I was finished a runner drew up along side and she asked If I thought a faint track branching off from the walker’s path was a short cut. I said I thought it could be and we decided to follow it and from then on I had something of a recovery. Whether it was a belated effect of the food I’d eaten, the result of Derek’s drink, or the prospect of some company to spur me on, I couldn’t say, but my physical condition, at least as my brain perceived it, improved from extremely exhausted to just exhausted. The rest of the climb was almost bearable. There was even time for a laugh with my companion. We came to a fork in the path and were wondering which was the best line. I said “It’s typical isn’t it, in every race I’ve done over here I’ve always been just behind the same local runner who always knows where to go”. No sooner had I said this then the said chap, Karl Fursey of BCR appeared on the hillside just above us. I said in an exaggerated stage whisper “Psst, that’s him!!!” which made her laugh.

Another runner joined us as we trotted together along to the Summit of Swirl Howe.

Now, even though there were still 6 miles and 1200 feet of climbing left I somehow knew I was going to do it, barring a catastrophic attack of cramp, something I’d never suffered from before. I was slightly worried about the lack of water because there was no sign of George and my water bottle at Swirl Howe. I needn’t have worried because a couple of hundred yards further on, there he was with his dog, Mitch and the all important water.

On the long descent to Goat’s Hause, I left the two ladies behind and and began to close on Karl. As the descent wasn’t exactly done at breakneck speed, I had time to pick out my favourite rock climbs on Dow Crag. Arete, Chimney and Crack, Murray’s Route, Leopards Crawl, Eliminate A, Eliminate B, C Ordinary, all good friends of my climbing days and I couldn’t help but think how easy climbing was compared to fell running! A stumble brought me out of my reverie and back to the harsh reality of the day’s task and more specifically, the 750 foot climb up to Dow Crag.

I passed Karl half way up Dow Crag. I also passed another guy who was suffering from cramp who said he was giving up at Dow and I tried to encourage him to go on. It seemed a shame to get so far and not finish, but then I didn’t know how much he was hurting, I like to think he stuck at it.

From the checkpoint on Dow I started to gain on two more people, one was an older chap who was also suffering with cramp but he started again soon after I passed by and the other was a woman who collapsed with the same trouble just as I reached her. She didn’t look it, but she swore she was OK. Feeling slightly guilty about leaving her, I pressed slowly on. I needn’t have worried because she certainly was OK when she passed me just before White Pike.

Plodding on and looking ahead it was a bit demoralising to realise just how far I had to drop down before starting the climb to the top of Caw, the final summit, but it had to be done, so on I went taking it very easy on the way down. At the col I went thigh deep into what must have been the only bit of bog in the race. It was a considerable struggle to get out, but at least it cooled me down a bit.

My race plan was certainly working because I was rapidly gaining on yet another runner as I approached Caw Fell but I made a conscious decision to stay behind him all the way up. I did not want to risk a blow up so close to the finish and as a result on the summit I felt as fresh as could be expected after 17 or so miles of effort.. Just before the top I clocked where some other runners were descending but this knowledge didn’t stop me missing their path. I’d turned too soon but fortunately it turned into a bit of a short cut when I rejoined the right path ahead of the guy I’d been following. I thought I was descending quite well despite my wobbly legs when footsteps heralded someone rapidly catching me. It was a local club runner and he fairly flew down to the valley. This example aided by the sight of the finishing field and pub helped me to pick up speed and pass two totally spent runners just before the finish. It was good to realise there were people suffering more than me.

The other Ponies cheered me in and were really nice in congratulating me on what was nothing for them but a really big something for me. My time was slow, almost glacial, 5 hours 6 minutes, and I was 205th out of 240 starters of whom 17 failed to finish, a high attrition rate probably due to the heat and humidity.

Duddon Split Times for all you geeks out here

Section

Miles

Ascent

Time

Speed

Start to Harter

3.6

2093

56.2

3.84

Harter to The Knott

2.25

700

33

4.09

Knott to Little Stand

1.5

1300

44.8

2.00

Little S to 3 Shires

2.1

0

26

4.84

3 Shires to Swirl

1.9

1352

48.16

2.37

Swirl to Dow

2.02

750

30

4.04

Dow to White P

1.8

0

22.2

4.86

White P to Caw

1.65

479

31.4

3.15

Caw to End

1.2

0

14.4

5.00

18.02

6674

306.16

I stayed for the prize giving and drinking glass after glass of orange, relaxed in the hot afternoon sunshine. On the way back to the campsite I had a paddle in the river to get rid of the bog mud and back at Turner Hall Farm, Derek handed over a can of ice cold lager from his motor home’s fridge. Even although it was only lager, it tasted beautiful.

At 6pm we were back at the Newfield to eat and to listen to the band. We chatted with many other runners including one guy who had finished in over 6 hours after spewing up six times en route. Now that was heroic. At 9.30 the midges and tiredness prompted me to turn in. As I lay in my little tent, exhausted but content, one thought in particular struck me. Gerry’s bad luck had turned out to be my good luck. If she hadn’t fallen at the start, she and her husband wouldn’t have been at The Three Shires Stone to encourage me to go on. Without them I would have packed it in, of that there was no doubt and the disappointment would have been so intense that I might have even packed in running. It was a rather sobering thought.  

I finally drifted off to sleep thinking and this sounds rather silly, that with this race under my belt I had finally served out my apprenticeship. I felt that now I was no longer the novice, but a real hard, gnarly fell runner! It all seemed slightly unreal.

The next day it was raining and everyone went home.

Coniston Trail Marathon bagged by JJ

Not content with his marathon+ at Hardmoors recently, JJ went and bagged another one.  Here’s his account…

Lake Trails Marathon… As I hadn’t done a Lakeland Trail Marathon before I thought it would be good training for the Ultimate Lakes 55km event I’m doing 2nd July.. I was sure there would be gentle slopes up and down, with a bit of road running to help… It is described as the most scenic trail marathon in Britain, it will be fine…

Starting and finishing at Coniston Hall it makes a complete circuit of Coniston Water, taking in Tarn Hows, Beacon Tarn providing views of the Old Man, Swirl How, Wetherlam and Dow Crags.

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Coniston Water and the Coniston Fells beyond

Registered on Sat 4th June then off to luxury accommodation at Hawkshead YHA – camping pod.

Nice early start on Sunday up at 5am to eat before 7am start. The heat was noticeable even that early. Lots of excitement at the start and yes had to get a before picture, just to prove I was there..

Slight hiccup after about a mile where we all went the wrong way until someone shouted they had done it before and we needed to turn around…

Settled in to a nice pace, which continued for about 16 miles, felt great completing that in 3 hours 11 mins. Took on plenty of water, flat coke, bananas and ultra runners staple – flapjack!!! Drinks stations a plenty every 5 or so miles.. The temp got up to about 27 degrees which started to hit hard.. At about 18 miles stomach started to cramp and all the early energy I had left me very quickly, it was a struggle to put together any sort of jog!!

The 19 mile mark saw me stop to apply blister plaster, which eased the pain I was starting to feel. The views were amazing and I was able to take them all in as I struggled for the next 6 miles to put one foot in front of the other.. Obviously I was saving myself for the glory mile and the finish..

Support along the last part of the run was brilliant, lots of encouragement and cheering in the sunshine..

Crossed the line in 6hrs 12 mins. Also managed another 200 meters to stand in the lake and ease my feet..

If you asked me then if I’d do it again the answer would have been no way, however 24 hours later it would obviously be… Of course, I need to knock an hour or so off that time.

Is it the most scenic trail marathon in Britain? I think it could be.

Roll on Sat 11th June when I’m doing my first club Fell Run… I’m sure it will be flat!!!

Katherine conquers St Cuthberts Way

Katherine Davis is a versatile and talented athlete.  When she’s not handicapping herself by doing extra milage in duathlons (cos she’s rock ‘ard), winning or placing highly in fellraces,  winning prizes in road races or doing triathlons, she’s running 62 mile routes over a couple of days for the sheer hell of it.

Katherine chose a solo run along St Cuthberts Way.  Cuthbert was a 7th century saint who worked at Melrose Abbey and his route extends from there to Kirk Yetholm and onto Holy Island.  Here is Katherine’s account of her adventure….

I like doing and seeing new things, and I’m always up for an adventure or challenge so here I am at the gates of Melrose Abbey in the sunshine feeling relaxed. A short walk with the family before the route leaves civilisation. Panic – can I do this on my own? a bit late for that now!

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At the start…

So off through a snicket between houses down to a dene and straight up steps, lots of them out onto the lower slopes of the unique three tops of the Eildon Hills.

It was quiet and still through the woodland along a river bank so frequently stopped to look for Heron or Kingfisher, no luck, in fact there was distinct lack of wildlife over the two days. Over an hour later I spotted some movement ahead it was the lesser spotted family who had walked out to meet me in St Boswells., I stopped running and walked to the car in St Boswells to refill my water bottle and have a proper picnic lunch, no gels for me – this isn’t a race.

I’d identified two diversions because of landslips on the journey up and pencilled them onto my map. This was the point of the first diversion however 3 ladies had been seen taking the original route, maybe it was open, no stick to plan, follow diversion. This next section was relatively open with views back to the Eildon Hills, passing the historic Lilliards Stone with connections to the ballad of Chevy Chase. The smell of Rapeseed at this point was overwhelming and colour stunning making the yellow of the Gorse look orange. Again the family had walked into woodland to meet me but this time I hadn’t seen them so it was a lovely surprise. I was so hot by now and thirsty so on the recommendation of them I deviated about a mile from the route to get a good cup of tea at Harestanes visitor centre.

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Support crew/Starburst thieves…

Thankfully Colin had been told the repair to the route had been made and so the second diversion was no longer needed. The route went through Rhodedroms of Monteviot House then over a suspension bridge spanning a beautiful river, I stopped again enjoying the view. The next destination was Morebattle, the half way point and I needed to decide whether to stop here or push on to Kirk Yetholm which would mean covering more than half the distance today and taking in the highest point.   I was starting to feel tired and remembered the big bag of Starburst in the car, ooh the fruitiness was just what I needed. Imagine my disappointment when the bag was empty! Thanks Issy!

Because the weather was good and the forecast for tomorrow was poor I decided to do the extra miles which would mean tomorrow I’d get to Holy Island just as the causeway was opening and so we’d all get home a bit earlier.

Heading out of Morebattle the weather decided to turn, it got quite cold but thankfully didn’t rain. As I rounded a hillock I had my second encounter of the day with a herd of cows this time more scary than the last. The cows and calves were across the route I needed to take and didn’t look happy. I dropped down off the hillock to the fence line and walked nervously past them by which time they’d moved away from the style I needed to cross. However on the other side was a single cow blocking my route, the ground was a quagmire so I sank into it, the cow backed up a little then turned and ran in a circle kicking, it then came back snorting, I was seriously shitting! I got right up against the wall which had woodland hanging over it I ducked the branches and was constantly looking for an escape route, could I leap the dry (loose) stone wall if needed. Higher up the field I could climb over which I did and avoided the rest of the herd sitting at the foot of the next stile!

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As I got higher the visibility got worse, I should have been able to see both the Eildon Hills and Cheviots but was prevented by low cloud. It was a good descent but then the road section afterwards into Town and Kirk Yetholm was painful.

There they were again on the village green of Kirk Yetholm where I went straight to the pub!

DAY 2 – I woke up feeling good and was really keen and excited to get started again. It was an ascent out of Kirk Yetholm to the ‘Welcome to England’ sign, but was soon disappointed as the views were shrouded in mist again, but this time really wet mist.

When I eventually pulled the map out of my bum bag to quickly check the route it was saturated! Losing the covers and then the print on the very section I needed was just a bit of a problem. A farmer asked if I needed help offered to drive me to Wooler! ‘Are you sure you want to do the St Cuthberts route, it’s bleak up there today with that heavy mist, none of us will be going up there today , the route goes over there (pointing) but after that oooh well, and mind the helicopter can’t come out in this weather, but you don’t look stupid’ (little do they know).  I now felt slightly nervous but politely turned down the offer and headed off into what had been presented as oblivion. Afterwards when I thought about the encounter I wondered if in fact there had been an attempt at keeping me for company as she did say she doesn’t get to see many people, Weird!

It was bleak up there! Visibility down to less than 100m but anyway Wooler awaited and I’d already decided brunch was going to be poached eggs on toast. Arriving in Wooler drenched and having seen nothing but mist was a bit miserable but meeting up with the family and good food sorted out morale.

Now to Holy Island, but I was having thoughts about the worthiness of running across the causeway. A slight deviation from the route took me to the lovely spot of St Cuthberts cave where I saw the first person on the route.   When Holy Island came into view I decided that yes I would run across the causeway, its something I’d thought about doing many times when crossing in the car so this was the opportunity , I’d regret it and only have to finish it off another time if I didn’t do it now. First I had to cross the main East Coast rail line with warnings of high speed trains, after a quick call to the signalman who asked how long it would take to cross (3 seconds) I was given the go ahead to cross immediately, it was strangely unsettling.

With perfect timing I reached the causeway just as it opened. It was really windy and quite slippey in parts, crossing back and forth across the road to find a safe trod at the side of the road I got to the car park and was welcomed by the family which was surprisingly a bit emotional then celebrated with cake.

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Nailed it

POST SCRIPT

Facebook was resplendent in the following photo of a little friend the Katherine bought back with her from the run.  Thankfully, reports are that the tick is no longer ‘in-situ’ 🙂

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