The darling fells of May

As most people are aware by now, especially my fellow Dashers, I absolutely love racing.  Last night I ran my 30th race since December 14th, this doesn't include parkrun's, cross country or any form of relay (the Viper series in my case).

Since 'removing' myself from football earlier this year, I have trained at around the 40 mile mark per week, with my race mileage usually included in that figure.  The competitiveness of football has been transferred to my running, hence the number of races I do.  I was an avid player of the beautiful game, 6 times a week and commonly 7 times a week in a lot of cases, so to me it is no surprise that I have had to replace this with another form of competition and that happens to be running!

Since my last post when I'd not long ran the Pendle Hill fell race, I've enjoyed a good few run outs on the fells - the Saddleworth Cake Race, Great Hameldon Hill, Foe Edge and last night Mearley Clough.  A great variation in terms of terrain, distance and skill/technique required and I obviously enjoyed some more than others.

Saddleworth Cake Race - May 2nd 2015

Personally I prefer more grass and races that are 'off the beaten track', kind of thing so Saddleworth wasn't in my top 5 for that but I do like the longer races so a decent 9.95 miles (on my watch) was enjoyable, as were the infamous steps!!  With over 450 metres of climb, there is a good amount of climbing to be done over the race as a whole and a lot of it is runnable.  My overall pace was averaging at around 9:10/mile which for a fell race is quite good for me, but, as mentioned, a large majority of it was runnable, more so than an AS race such as Mearley Clough!  I finished in around 1:31 which wasn't too bad as I'd aimed for around 1:30 pre-race but I felt good which is the main thing at the moment as I gain more & more experience on the fells.

climbing & descending at the Cake Race - 2nd May 2015

The cake was well and truly demolished by all in the village hall post race, with some fantastic examples on display including a Marmite cake (a cake in the form of an actual enlarged Marmite jar!) and a rainbow cake which consisted of bands of Smarties arranged in order of colour on top of a chocolate cake surrounded by Kit-Kat was one of those that looked too good to eat!

Great Hameldon Hill - May 3rd 2015

Then Sunday saw me take on the Great Hameldon hill race for the first time.  Hills in Accrington are pretty hard to come by but if you venture through the woods slightly then you'll find a pretty good one up there and there was even a scrambling section, albeit shorter than what I've normally had to climb, but it was still a scramble, none the less!  The start is a fast one, on a school playing field, with a little kick up and around before heading up a short road section and then straight in to a climb up through a wooded area.

Once out of the woods, you run down a short path alongside the A56 and then after heading through an underpass you get to the real off road section.  Your first good climb is then in front and this wasn't too bad, I felt good and overtook a few people here, which is pretty rare for me on a climb.  Then the open moorland takes over and after a rain sodden Saturday, it made this section even more fun.  I hit a bog and ended up thigh deep in the stuff, much to the amusement of the pack of runners slowly waiting behind me - one of the lads even said that's why he'd let me go past, so I could venture on ahead, how nice! ;-)

The majority of the climbing was done, just short of 300 metres and the descending started, dropping back down the moors and along some decent mud tracks.  The section of uphill scrambling that I mentioned earlier, turned out to be a good little descent on the way back down, although some of the more experienced runners did skip past me on this but once I hit the flat and down after that, I managed to claw back a few places and overtook 4 or 5 runners, as we came back on to the school playing fields, there was the slightest hill (a downhill you experience at the start) and my recent hill training paid off here as I went past another runner, coming home in 55:17 and 98th position out of 183.

Foe Edge fell race - May 6th 2015

A mid week race - I love these!  Organised by Rossendale Harriers and another first for me as I'd never ran over this side of the moors.  A small field of 45 met up at Cowpe village hall for a 7:15pm start.  Another grassy field start, this time straight up a solid climb to take you on to the moors.  The rain held off for the whole race but rain from earlier in the day made it 'fun' on the tops with puddles a good few inches deep all over.  I normally battle it out with other runners in races but the only battle I seemed to be fighting this time round, was one against the wind.  With it being so open on the higher tracks, the wind was difficult to run against and provided a stern test of your balance and strength to power through.

The course dropped and climbed a few times, making it tricky to open up your legs for some strong running and a couple of the climbs were even scrambles so there was definitely no room for running those.  Although as with fell races, if you go up, you've got to come down and there were a good few descents in there that provided some fast running.  Once I got to the trig point up on the tops, I knew I could open up then and get some valuable time back that I generally do lose on the climbs during my races (something that I hope will come with more experience and practice?!).

running strong on some flat at Foe Edge - 6th May 2015

Once I'd negotiated the drop from the trig point, the route met up on the same paths that we'd ran up on.  It's always good to run on paths you've done before, in my opinion, because if you don't manage to recce a route then a cross over is always helpful, although by this point you're already 3 miles or so in to the race so you're up to speed with race pace, usually!

The final descent was brilliant.  It was effectively the hill we had climbed from the start line to take us up on to the moors but you came down the opposite side, through the long grass and flew down the steep side in to the finishing funnel.  Josh Boyle from Blackburn Harriers (under 16!!) won the race by 3 seconds and about 11 minutes in front of me.  I finished 25th in 45:54.

Mearley Clough fell race - May 12th 2015

Out of the four I've spoke about on this post, I think I enjoyed this one most of all.  Another mid week race and another one in & around Pendle Hill, they're becoming my favourite!  It didn't start off that well and this was before I'd even got my Walsh's on.  We walked straight by the huge white board saying "Registration", much to the amusement of Dave Woodhead.  I did say it wouldn't be getting a mention in my blog but I can't leave it out, haha.  I just replied "it's a good job I don't have to navigate on this race or I would be in trouble!!!".

22 Dashers in total at this one and as a race that is part of the club fell championship, it was expected to be in double figures but 22 for a mid week race is fantastic.  Possibly the most strongly represented club, although Clayton may have taken that accolade with it being more local to them (I've not had chance to count exact numbers).

The start is quick.  It's flat along about 100 metres of tarmac and stone then you hit the fields and head for the woods via the local farmers tracks.  Once in the woods you start to climb a little, but nothing in comparison to the hill you see in front of you once you exit the woodland.  The climbs and drops at this point are warm ups in a sense.  We dropped in to a small river, crossed over it in a stride and then a small 20 foot scramble put us at the bottom of 'the hill'.  I looked up and could already see the front runners at the top, just about to hit the peak, I had 19 minutes on my watch and they'd already done the hard part!!

spot the runners - fantastic picture courtesy of Steve Fish of CLM

The climb was tough, as expected, but I was happy with the amount of time it took me.  I think it was just over 5 minutes, or around that anyway, and I was hitting the top but the wind was hitting me harder!  It was a hell of a climb but the feeling is somewhat satisfactory when you've done it, I even took a second to look around/behind me, the view was amazing but unfortunately it's just a mental image for me, not one I can share on here.

It was hard to get what I'd call a normal breathing pattern going as the wind was so strong but the plan was just to make it around the cairn and then give it the legs.  I was tracking a Blackburn Harrier and another chap who were in front of me.  I managed to take the Harrier as we hit the descent and then I overtook the other runner about 3/4's of the way down the same stretch, holding them off all the way to the finish, which I was happy with.  I felt really strong down the descent and my legs had really opened up for the run back to the finish through the fields, I'd never really felt that strong before, which must be a good sign?!

Me & Jonathan about half a mile in - Mearley Clough - 12th May 2015

I finished and somehow managed to roll my ankle (after crossing the finish line), much to the amusement of the nearby runners.  I laughed myself as it just looked like a dramatic dive over the line, Klinsmann style.  My ankle is sore today though so a few days rest are planned and thankfully a non-race weekend was already in my diary so in a way it's possibly good timing and there also isn't any real swelling so fingers crossed it's just a minor tweak.  I managed 84th place out of 127 in 45:46, which isn't bad for me on an AS as I'm not that good at all at ascending and in a race with around 370 metres of climb over 4 miles, there's quite a bit of ascending being done!!

race map & contours of the ascent and descent - impressive! - Mearley Clough

Overall, a thoroughly enjoyable set of races and unfortunately it's looking like my whole May of fell races (hence the blog title).  I've entered the Colne 10k on Friday 22nd and also the Crazy Cow 10k on the 31st but they're both road races.  Technically they just help towards the ultimate goal of becoming a better fell runner, as I can use them for speed endurance, so it's not too bad if I look at it that way.

Hope you've enjoyed the blog and I will be doing another towards the end of June when I'll have hopefully ran Paddy's Pole, the Holcombe 2 Towers, the Two Lads fell race and Great Hill fell race - two of which I ran last year, so it will be really interesting to see how much time I can knock off!

Thanks for reading :) (and thanks to all photographers for their pics, always good ones!)

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