The Lake District "Four"

Following on from yesterday's race round up, I did mention that I'd dramatically increased my racing experience in the Lake District as of late.  The main reason behind this was due to the fact that I don't really consider myself a strong enough runner to run a time I would desire, or more importantly, I don't feel strong enough to take on a lot of the races.  Obviously everybody has differing standards in terms of what they class as being acceptable, in every walk of life, but for me I want to be able to push myself to the limit, which in turn, makes it an enjoyable experience, while at the same time running a somewhat respectable race time.  Like some of us, I get the most out of myself when I am pushing beyond my comfort zone, obviously only to a certain extent...I won't be going for a Bob Graham round next month or attempting Wasdale fell race any time soon, but never say never!

After giving Kentmere Horseshoe a go last year, along with Scafell Pike & Langdale Half Marathon (road race, though), and as mentioned yesterday, Causey Pike, I'd raced 3 fell races in the Lakes.  Very little experience on the "big boys playground", but, I put in a decent performance at Kentmere, finishing in the top 30% of the field & surprising myself immensely.  After training well, racing a lot and most importantly, staying injury free, I felt a lot stronger than before I took the plunge at Kentmere last Summer so I started considering more Lake District races on my pencilled fixture list.  If you're not a member of the FRA but run fell races, or are even interested in fell running, I would definitely encourage you to join and support the sport by becoming a member, even if it's just for the issues of the Fell Runner magazine, which is a fantastic read.

Anyway, less about last year and more about now.  First of the "Lake District Four", was Loughrigg.  The first midweek race of the year in the Lakes, usually a great turnout and a real classic short.  2 miles up  the fell, starting from the playing field adjacent to Ambleside primary school, round the trig and then 2 miles back down, the same way you went up.  Me & Stu Ryder were there early doors, only 1 runner there before us so we picked up bib number's 2 & 3.  We avoided bib number 1 by writing our details slowly on the FRA details forms, ha ha (see last blog post!).  Pre-race it was really cold.  Snow visible for miles on the Fairfield Horseshoe, although no snow in Ambleside but it had the feel of wintry weather approaching.  174 runners toed the start line in the freezing conditions.  We were given a tip by a former Dasher & now Black Combe runner, Julian, to try and get to the footbridge before others to avoid the bottleneck.  My race plan was to start steady and just try to run as much as the 1,000 feet of ascent to the trig as possible.  It worked well for me, steadily picking off other runners who'd gone out too quick and then eventually some other runners who were struggling to keep up the running up hill.  I did fell walk a couple of short but very steep sections but apart from that I managed to trot the rest of it.  As we reached the trig the weather took a turn for the worst and snow/sleet showers came rolling in, not helped by the lack of protection from the fells at the trig point either, it's very open on top of Loughrigg!  Mick Kenyon was up there snapping away with his camera, check out the very atmospheric picture below, he must've been freezing, as I imagine the trig point marshals felt the same too, huge kudos to those guys up there!

tip toeing my way back down from Loughrigg trig point

The descent was fantastic, a real quick one.  I was just over 25 minutes to the top, 2 miles with 1,000 feet of climbing and then my descent was obviously quicker, around 15 minutes to descend across the fells and through the now many puddles that had formed on the tops.  109th place in 40:47, followed by Stu, 133rd in 44:41.  I really buzzed off this race, I felt great and had a good run which always helps the post-race review but there was just something about the route and the short ones like this, that I love.  There's just nowhere to hide, you have to work hard and graft all the way to the top and then you kind of get your reward, with a flying second half of the race.  You just can't beat it!  A special mention to the Walnut Fish Bar - me & Stu stopped off for chips before the journey home and what a fantastic sight - a chip shop full of fell runners at 8:45pm on a Wednesday night.  Brilliant.  Superb food as well, I would definitely recommend the haggis & chips ;-)

Coledale Horseshoe.  Team Salomon came to town for this one.  The Salomon team where on their advanced week and this year it was in the Lakes, some of them opting to race Coledale as a part of it!  Exciting, I guess!  Seeing some of the best trail runners & "mountain goats" of the Salomon branded team, although it was sure to make my finishing position look a little worse than usual, but it would have no influence on my race time anyway.  The race starts with a long & testing climb up to Grisedale Pike, giving a 3 mile start, 2,000 feet of ascent - nice!

about to climb the climb, Grisedale Pike ahead - picture by Rupert Bonington, Mountain Fuel UK

Once the long slog was complete, a fun and fast descent awaits.  I descended well, a lot better than usual and felt quite good.  I then saw what was next, the scramble up to Eel Crag.  Covered in snow & ice with only rock to climb up, no runnable terrain, it looked tricky from a distance, even more so when I got there.  My hands and fingers were numb by the time I reached the top and my energy levels had already started to falter, not something I wanted after less than 4.5 miles in to a 8+ mile race but I had put the effort in that I would on a fast, short race - there lied my problem!  With just under 4 miles to go, most of it runnable, I found it difficult to push myself to my usual running and suffered immensely on the run back.  (picture below by Stephen Wilson - Grand Day Out Photography)

running over Barrow, closely followed by FRA chairman, Nick Harris of Rossendale Harriers

This race had another first for me.  There was a point on the route where the path split in two and I took the left hand path, definitely the wrong choice.  It turned out to be over very rough and hardly runnable terrain, where I feel the other route was slightly longer but definitely "clean" running on paths, this cost me around 5+ minutes on to my time and when I rejoined the rest of the race (a few of us took this choice, mind), it seemed like I'd lost a good few places in doing so.  Unfortunate but at least I didn't get lost, I suppose!  Carl Bell won the race ahead of Salomon's Max King, 1:11:17 and 1:11:31 respectively.  Team Salomon did have a victory though, in the women's race, Yngvild Kaspersen was 1st in 1:24:55, followed by Preston's Nichola Jackson and Salomon's Ellie Greenwood in 3rd place - fantastic run by Nic to beat quite a few of the Salomon elite runners!  Andy Britton was using this as a last fell race before the London marathon and finished in 55th place in 1:29:22 (2 seconds behind Nichola Jackson) and Simon Taylor finished in 1:48:47, 175th place.  I was disappointed with my race, as you can probably tell.  My energy dropped and this knocked me out of my proper race mode, I ended up 220th in 2:05.  With 262 runners overall, I was disappointed again but I always use races like this as something to push me harder in the next few races, thankfully, that worked.

Wednesday April 13th, my 26th birthday & also the date for the Grisedale Grind.  I already knew quite a bit about this classic short, having heard a story or two from my Grandad & Uncle Chris as they both raced it in 1992 when it was used as a counter for the English Fell Championships.  I actually have a copy of the original paper results from this exact race, in a folder my Uncle still had with some of their race results in, fantastic to find this and share it online.  My Grandad (Don Ashton of Blackburn Harriers) won the V50's that day, the same year that he was crowned V50 British AND English champion, not a bad year, eh!  Uncle Chris was one of very few youngsters running that day and he challenged me to have a go at beating his time of 35 minutes.

The 1992 Grisedale Grind race notes & results pages 1 & 2

Dave Woodhead also provided me with a few pictures from that day, another great addition to the little fell running archive I seem to be building up.  I love the history behind the sport and I am forever interested in finding out more about it, both through my own experiences and through stories of other runners, both past & present.

Top; Uncle Chris descending - Bottom; Grandad climbing well, as always! (p/c - Woodentops)

The 2016 race though was fantastic.  I'd already bagged Grisedale Pike on the Saturday at Coledale but was taking a different route up this time.  1.25 miles up and then the same route back down - I couldn't make the same mistake as at Coledale or I would be left wanting and with nowhere to hide on the short ones, it would've been a painful experience.  Me, Simon Taylor & Leanne Walsh made the journey up to the Lakes and in the mist and low cloud, battled our way to 3 good finishes.  I was first of the three of us to the summit, very closely followed by Simon but I knew he'd have me on the descent so I had to take my marginal "victory" and just chase him to the finish.

last push towards Grisedale Pike summit - picture by Stephen Wilson, Grand Day Out Photography

Ricky Lightfoot made the start line, just.  He then in typical style, set a new course record as well, running 24:41 (to put that in to perspective, it took me longer than that to reach the summit!).  The chasing pack seemed to take an age to come past after him on the other side of the wall but the likes of Martin Mikkelsen-Barron, Carl Bell, Mark Lamb & Phil Winskill couldn't catch him (a few had raced Coledale at weekend too, though).  I managed to finish 57th in 37:42, just behind Simon in 51st with 36:25 - as you can see, he made over 1 minute on me on the descent.  Leanne also enjoyed one of her only Lakes races so far, finishing 82nd in 47:54.  A great day out and I wouldn't want to do much else for a birthday at the moment - great company, fantastic race and another block of experience added to my fell running.

Simon, me & Leanne post-Grisedale Grind

To complete the pre-Three Peaks Lake District quadruple, we had the Anniversary Waltz lined up.  Another race that I'd heard a lot about and a race that I had actually recce'd with the Dashers gang only a few weeks prior.  I personally felt a lot of it was runnable so I was looking forward to testing myself, and maybe my navigation skills, depending on the weather.  The route follows the Newlands Valley Horseshoe and as with most of the horseshoe routes, they have great views once you are up on the ridges, although getting up there is always the tough part!

I took my time on the recce, picking lines and trying to see where I could take the shorter lines.  The only section that I took badly was the descent off Dale Head.  I picked up some tips from people who had ran this race before and they said aim for the right hand side of the tarn, so that's what I did, and, it worked really well!  This race threw up another first for me, I managed to obtain blisters, presumably from the descents with wet feet but they were becoming unbearable with a couple of miles or so to go.

Anniversary Waltz'ing on a fantastic down hill section (credit; Stephen Wilson - GDO Photography)

Plenty of Darwen runners at this one as it was the first race in the fell championship.  More of the CVFR runners took on the Teenager with Altitude, one I don't feel ready for just yet...adding on Causey Pike to the beginning of the Waltz route, and more!  I did, to my surprise, see Ben Mounsey on the route as well, after he'd been getting some photo's for an Inov-8 shoot, hearing the shout of "YES, my main man!", I didn't think it would be somebody I knew, ha ha!  Was great to see a good friend up there just as my blisters were beginning to kill me off, I managed to push on and chase down a few more runners to come home in 2 hours 23 minutes.  I felt really strong most of the way round, pushing hard up the hills and quite a lot of runners encouraged me in my ascending, usually a sign that you are running well.  The finish is a fast descent down the side of Cat Bells, where Dashers Chairman Chris Cash was waiting, along with Debbie & a few more Dashers, many thanks for the support guys, even if I am in a red & white vest on the fells now!

being chased down from Cat Bells - picture by Dashers own, Debbie Bevitt 

Well done to all who took part, for some it was their first Lake District race, for me, my 4th in a matter of weeks.  Experience well added and legs well worked, hopefully my racing plan for the Three Peaks will pay off...there's only one way to find out and that is to run the race this coming Saturday!

For many people it's just "that time of year" again but for me it's a special one.  My first experience of the Three Peaks race.  A race that I know so much about and have heard so much of but I've never been fit enough or in fell running long enough to race it.  My Grandad has ran 3 hours 8 minutes on it, finished in the top 10 and claimed 2nd place on the team prize, along with Harry Walker & Steve Breckell - some achievement for the Blackburn Harriers coming 2nd to Kendal on the most famous fell race of them all.  My aspirations would aim for those achievements but my real expectations and current running ability make me aim a hell of a lot lower than that.  I have a race time set in mind but for the first run of it, I will be absolutely buzzing just to finish the race.

Again, thanks for reading & I will see some of you in the race tent on Saturday morning, pre-Three Peaks...good luck all & I'll post again soon!



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