May 2012

I'm OK, but I'm not so sure about the wall


Fellsman. The first half is a mixture of everything I’m crap at: steep ups, steep downs and peat bog. Followed by grouping to foil my usual late race plod through the back of the field. But I keep going back.

I went into it without any time goals. Even without the grouping lottery, the wet conditions under foot were going to slow things down. Soggy bogs weren’t the issue though. Even at the start at Ingleton the wind was howling.  On the out and back to Gragareth I felt strong (and smug) as I ran up the slope, while the people coming back down  the other way walked. And then I turned round. Boom. Wind in the face so strong it was an effort to even walk.

During the day the wind was a constant battle, but I made it to Redshaw, and grouping, in decent time. After a brief wait we formed a group of 5 and, without pausing even for introductions, set off.

In the past I’ve had pretty good luck with grouping. It couldn’t last for ever... One of this year’s group was a fast walker, and set an uncompromising pace. I could just about keep up, but one of the group was wrecked and wanting to drop by the time we made it to the next checkpoint just over a mile away. But we had to stick together until the next road side checkpoint at Fleet Moss, so the pace (temporarily) eased off a bit.

Out of Fleet Moss it was full steam ahead again, following a ‘straight line’ GPS route, even though one of the group had a good route from last year in his GPS. The weather was deteriorating, with a brief blizzard at one point, but on we charged straight through whatever was in our path. The low-light was climbing a dodgy collapsing wall, with a barbed wire fence on top for good measure, when there was a perfectly good stile 20 metres away. Watching the resulting bruise on my arm change colour over the next week was interesting though. We made it to Fleet Moss OK, and then had to wait (in the midst of a the bog in the storm) while ‘full steam ahead’ (FSA) man faffed with this kit for 5 minutes.

Across to Hell Gap it was more of the same. Straight through a bog when there was a trod along a fence metres away. But I couldn’t get close enough (or shout loud enough) to do anything about it. The tent at Cray was crammed with people dropping out, and we gained the remnants of another group. And waited, getting steadily colder, while FSA-man drank multiple cups of tea.

I always struggle with the steep climb up Buckden Pike, and with my calves having tightened up at Cray I was off the back of the group until the gradient eased near the top.
Along the top of the hill the stiles and walls were coated in thick ice which led to some inadvertent acrobatics.
FSA-man had faded by now and we even had to stop and wait for him at one point. For a while my left eye had been sore and fuzzy. I’d put this down to my hair being blown into it by the wind repeatedly earlier in the day. But then one of the other members of the group mentioned he couldn’t see out of one of his eyes at all.

Getting close to Park Rash I was worried that another long stop would leave me too cold to continue. But as we stepped into the tent we were told the race had been abandoned. It was initially a surprise, but within a fraction of a second it became clear that this was the right decision. ‘I can see why’ were the words which came out of my mouth (not, like some other people, ‘But what about my UTMB points, waaah’).

Getting transport together to evacuate dozens of runners from the middle of nowhere took a while. And as we waited I got colder and colder and, to my embarrassment, I ended up wrapped in a survival blanket sat next to a stove to keep warm. The kit which had seen me through some epic bad weather races (such as the infamous 2009 Round Rotherham) wasn’t enough for Fellsman 2012.