I think we can now say with confidence that the fellrunning scene has a new, bona fide member in its ranks. It’s not like the Poly hasn’t been involved in fellrunning for some time (Katherine, DJ, Barry, Chris Rowe, Gary Robson et al have been quietly practicing the dark side for various amounts of years), but our fielding of a team that more than held its own in the sport’s premier team event is definitely a movement forwards as a club. It’s an arrival.
The “UKA Fell and Hill-Running Relays” as they are officially called (the ‘fell relays’ everyone calls them) are an annual event held in mid-October which attracts the very best in the sport. Taking part and completing them is a big deal and clubs send very strong teams – no-one is making up the numbers. Winning them us VERY prestigious.
The format is as follows:
- 6 person team
- 4 legs, 2 solo legs and 2 paired legs
- The solo legs are marked courses (requiring no navigation) and are short and sharp
- The first pairs leg is more committing and longer, but marked and marshalled
- The second pairs leg is a navigation challenge, with the map handed out moments before the start.
- The order is solo – pairs (marked) – pairs (navigation leg) – solo
- Fastest cumulative time wins
Our gallant team (below) were Gary Robson on the first solo leg, Danny Richardson and Chris Rowe on the marked pairs leg, Jon Heaney dragging along the author for the Nav pairs leg and Will Robson for a flying finish on the second solo leg.
The weather was, well, Scottish autumnal weather – low cloud and rain….and the ground conditions were wet, boggy in places and slow going. The slopes rising out of Loch Lomond were steep and the courses that were set looked tricky.
The first leg runners, including our Gary, were piped out of the starting field and they were off. Leg one looked short and so Danny and Chris knew Gary would eat it up in no time. 29 minutes later, they were proved right as he powered back into the starting field ready to touch hands and set the first pair off. Gary was well up, 36th from 112 teams – a superb start. His time was 29:17, 5 minutes behind the leader (Joe Symonds, Shettleston Harriers in 24:22).
The first leg was tight amongst the leaders, with seconds separating the first half dozen. Astonishingly, the team whose runner was second home from leg one was greeted by a pair that were not a pair, i.e. one of them wasn’t there – faffing about with kit and not ready to run. 3rd place came in, 4th, 5th, 6th and eventually they were away, the culprit still dressing himself as they started running.
Danny and Chris set off in the rain on what looked like a tough leg with a lot of climbing in a short distance – about 3,300 feet of up and down in 7 miles or so. The last climb was over 1,200 feet in about a third of a mile – a real sting in the tail. Even Danny, a fine athlete as we all know, had a bit of a crisis on that last climb – it really was that brutal. They were 70th on their leg in 1:46:00. The pairs legs usually attract the strongest runners as it is usually the longest (not always, as we shall soon see…) and so we put a very strong pair out. They put in a strong run and handed over to Jon and I – very nervously watching the weather coming in. As they ran in, we were already priming our compasses for what was going to be a hell of a workout.
Jon and I had about five minutes before Danny and Chris came in to study the map for leg three, which had just been released for us all to view. Our first impression was that this was a long route. 14km ish? 2,800′ ascent? We were guessing but it looked very tricky, lots of wiggly contours which usually denotes confusing ground. I’ve done 6 or 7 nav legs in the past and this already looked like the hardest I had seen.
Confession time: We knew that hitting controls 3, 4 and 5 was going to be very difficult. We contented ourselves that control 1 looked easy to find, with tapes marking the initial outward route. However, the descent at the end was also taped. Guess which tapes we followed? After about 5 minutes, we started climbing steeply – too steeply. We had ****ed up from the absolute start. Two other teams around us did the same and we bolted through some rough ground to the correct track, feeling like muppets.
It woke us up because we hit all of the other controls just about dead-on, a few minor adjustments at the very most. Jon and I had never navigated together before but we complimented each other well and had to use one another as a dead reckoner for compass bearings on 50 metre visibility across largely featureless and boggy ground. We finished 68th in 2:15.
I was initially a bit disappointed, mainly because Jonny and Scott from NFR totally kicked our arses on this, fair play to them! I think we lost 5 minutes on the first error but other than that I think we nailed it. The trace above tells us that we did pretty well…
We were still well in the pack, team wise. All this and we had yet to play our ace card – young Will Robson was primed and ready for an insane looking leg 4 – 2000 feet up, turn round and run down again.
Will flew around in 25th on his leg – up there with some serious names. It was great watching him fly past toward the finish.
Will moved us up to 58th overall – around halfway. I think this is a cracking result. That might not sound much but this was so much more that a test of running – it was committing, uncomfortable and technical. We had greats of the sport alongside us, Jasmine Paris, Nicky Spinks to name but two you may have heard of…
It was a brilliant debut, we all learned loads and the 7 hour round trip was well, well worth it. Thanks team-mates and next year, surely we can take a ladies team too…..?