Nine Standards fell race - 2017

The Nine Standards Rigg.  A unique set up on the summit of Hartley fell near the boundary between Cumbria and North Yorkshire, just a few miles from Kirkby Stephen, which is where the race starts from.  The race is always on New Years Day and from my own knowledge, has always been the same 8 mile course.

Nine Standards - 9 cairns atop of Hartley fell (photo credit Kreuzschnabel, Wikipedia)

In it's 28th year, after being established in 1989, the race records are held by Carl Bell, 51:44 in 2013 and Victoria Wilkinson, 58:48 in 2016 and the race is currently organised by Howgill Harriers.

It is a race I've wanted to do since I began fell running around 2 years ago after hearing about it so fondly from both my Grandad & Uncle.  I didn't really have it planned in my race calendar as my lack of driving license doesn't give me the most flexible of options, especially on New Years Day, but, I got a text from Bill Beckett on New Years Eve, asking if I fancied another race, even the day after Auld Lang Syne.  Of course I did, I'm not a man to turn down a race at the best of times but this one was on my "to do" list, so I was buzzing at the thought of it!  So me, Bill & Ste (Baker, also Chorley), ventured further north, early on New Years Day.

The race start time is 12pm, midday, so plenty of time to wake yourself up and get yourself race ready, even those of you who enjoy a late night, as we welcome the new calendar year.  I'd done my research on the race via a few sources - blogs, online maps and by talking to other runners who have done it in previous years.  2 miles of tarmac (undulating!!) on the way out before hitting the fell then another 2 miles on the fells and tracks to the summit.  Round one of the nine cairns and fly back down whichever way you choose, although most people tend to go the same way they went up, ha ha.

Normally an 8 mile fell race with 4 miles of tarmac wouldn't exactly fire me up but there's something different about this one.  I think the setting of the route helps a lot, you're in a stunning part of the world so you're not really thinking about what surface you're running on.  The drive up to Kirkby Stephen was nice and pleasant and we could see the snow topped Howgills in the distance, this gave us a hint of the kind of conditions we could come to expect for the race.

As mentioned earlier, I'd done my research on the race and read up on a bit of race history.  I still had a copy of the 1993 results from when my Uncle Chris raced as as "Intermediate" or under 18 and finished 57th, I've attached some phone pictures of the results below, along with the 1992 results when my Grandad ran and finished 7th as a V50. (click on the images to zoom in)

1992 Nine Standards results - incl. newspaper cutting

1993 Nine Standards results

I doubt I will get near any of my Grandad's times any time soon, if ever, so 61:10 was never even in my thoughts as a target time.  Uncle Chris' time of 64:40 was more realistic, but based on my flat running speed, still not really achievable.  Somewhere around 75-80 minutes was more realistic and to summit under 50 minutes which would include a "steady-ish" start on the 2 miles of tarmac.  Saying that, I didn't set myself a time goal, I just wanted to run all the way up without having to walk.  With about 400 feet of climb before hitting the fells, I knew that was easily runnable but then over 1,000 feet in just short of 2 miles was going to be a tougher task, albeit something I have achieved before in other races, so, not impossible!

As we jogged around Kirkby Stephen to warm up, I spotted Carl Bell & Bowland's Chris Arthur, two lads who were certain to be leading the race, along with Victoria Wilkinson who is pretty much untouchable on her day.  So both current record holders were present and with the conditions near perfect, it was ideal for a new record, £50 on offer to anyone who broke it, both male or female, of course.

It was 12pm and we were off, a couple of minor bottlenecks as we charged through the narrow allies of the towns buildings, crossing a bridge before opening the stride alongside the river path.  150 runners out in the fresh Cumbrian air on New Years Day, fantastic.  Chris Arthur had pulled in to an early lead along the road, clearly visible in the bright, Bowland vest.  I tried to hold a little back on the road section, knowing that the steeper stuff was to come and that the fell terrain would be boggy and wet in places, if not snow covered, which always takes it out of you a little more.

Saying that, I felt quite strong and wasn't tiring as quickly as I anticipated so I tried to push on while climbing.  I gained a few places as the leaders started to come back down.  Bowland's Chris Arthur appeared from the summit first and it felt like a while before Carl Bell came past in second unassailable lead, maybe!  But, you can never write off the elite runners and Carl is most certainly one of those, along with the fact that in the blink of an eye, you can take the wrong step or roll an ankle and your race can be over, such is fell running!  As I turned a corner after leaping over an icy bog, the Nine Standards became visible and more and more runners came flying back down, through the now snow covered fells.  The sky was cloudy but the air was still and the ground was pure white, a fantastic day on the hill tops, you just can't beat it!

A couple of pictures at the Nine Standards Rigg - courtesy of Paul Dobson

I reached the summit in just over 46 minutes, so Uncle Chris' and Grandad's time's were in no danger whatsoever, just as I predicted anyway!  Only 4 & 5 minutes later, Chris Arthur and Carl Bell were crossing the finish line.  Chris set a new course record of 50:55 while Carl came home in 51:52, only just outside his own previous course record.  The conditions and the race itself were fast, ripe for a record breaking day and Victoria Wilkinson also obliged, breaking her own record with a time of 58:20 and 10th place overall.  Amazing running.

I managed to descend well, I've felt a new wave of confidence in descending since I raced Ben Nevis last year.  Something just clicked that day and since then I have felt more at ease with descending, especially on the rough stuff and learnt to attack the descent more, meaning less painful quads after most races.  Phew!  I maintained a decent pace on the road back in, well under 7 minute mile pace which was good considering how I pushed up hill and with racing the day before too!  My fitness seems to be coming back, if not improving to a better standard than it has ever been at, all good for the year ahead.

I finished in 1:15:17, 81st place out of the 150 runners, so firmly in the middle of the pack which is a good run when it's outside of my local area.  Hot on my heels was Mr.Beckett himself, 87th place in 1:17:02 - despite his recent bad flu, I normally don't beat him otherwise!  And he was swiftly followed by Keswick buddy, Paul Dobson, 88th place in 1:17:29.  I clocked 8 miles with 1,624ft of ascent.  Fantastic race, one which I now aim to run annually.  Also good to catch up with the likes of Sharon "Scoffa" Schofield, Laurence Keighley and John Orrell...the social at fell races is just superb, second to none.

Chris Arthur & Victoria Wilkinson collecting their prizes

And a racing first for me, a prize!  I won a £5 voucher courtesy of Kong Adventure, Keswick.  They had kindly sponsored the race and as well as providing a pre-race shop, they gifted some spot prizes for the race, my race number, 64, was drawn out for a voucher.  Chuffed to bits.  May not be a prize for my performance but it was the icing on the cake to a brilliant day in Cumbria.  What a way to start 2017, onwards and upwards from here, I hope!  Many thanks to the organisers, volunteers and marshals who helped to get the race in place and running smoothly.  It's certainly one that I will be recommending to other runners, that's for sure.

Another note, something I love seeing at races, is the race history folder that they had on the registration table.  The results, reports and newspaper cuttings from every race since it's inception, for runners to read through, something I wish was at every fell race.  Fascinating to read the history of a race, just before you are about to run it.

Extra special thanks to organiser, Paul Brittleton, who let me take a copy of the '92 results, in the race which Grandad ran so well.  Hugely appreciated mate, as I said on the day.  Many thanks.

Me & Paul after the race - good times!

Thanks for reading,

Cal :)


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