Great Whernside fell race

Last Saturday was the Great Whernside fell race, an annual affair starting from the village of Kettlewell in the Yorkshire Dales. I’m gradually getting back into the running and so thought it about time I enter my first race in 18 months. I wasn’t sure how my fitness would compare with how it was before I got injured, and so didn’t really have a clue where I would come in the race.

The route is a classic and relentless 4-mile straight up and down, with barely any respite in either direction. Intense would be an apt description, as right from the off you are thrown up a barely-runable field, before being let loose onto the energy-zapping, shoe-snatching bogs that, whilst being slightly flatter, are equally as draining. A few rockier sections in between where a welcome break, despite being the steepest parts of the race. The descent is equally as punishing, not necessarily because of the terrain, but because it is fast.

Struggling my way up!

Struggling my way up!

I set out in around 30th position and soon worked my way up to 20th by the end of the first field. Lactic acid was pumping through my legs and my breathing was laboured, but I felt surprisingly good and decided to push on at the same pace. I picked up another couple of places over the next mile or so to put myself in around 15th at the summit. I naively thought that I would get a rest on the way down, but I realised this wouldn’t be the case as the guy in front set off back down at a blistering pace. I was soon overtaken by a few others, by managed to hang on to 18th position by none-less-than a sprint all the way down. I took a few tumbles in the tussocky bog, but fortunately didn’t do myself any injuries.

On the descent

On the descent

I was a mere few seconds from 17th place at the finish – perhaps had the race been 200m longer I would have got it – but in the end I was very pleased with my 36:25, especially when compared with the winning time of 31:49 from Ian Holmes. Can’t wait until the next race!

Thanks to Woodentops for the great pictures!

Three Peaks fell race

I’ve got a valid excuse for the delay in posting about this race, which took place last Saturday. I had my Master’s project (effectively a lengthy dissertation) due in last Monday and the first of my exams today (in Advanced Relativity and Gravity, and Advanced Particle Physics – scary stuff!). I thought I’d take a break from the work this evening and so I’ve finally got a chance to write about what was one of the most enjoyable days out I’ve had this year!

The Three Peaks fell race is in its 58th year, and attracts people from all over the globe. The entry limit for the race is 1000 and it also sells out without a few weeks of entries opening. And rightly so, as I personally think it’s one of the best, and indeed toughest, races out there, standing at 23 miles and with about 5000 ft of ascent. Ironically, it’s not the height gain or mountainous terrain that make it tough, but more the relentless pace and long flat sections that you have to pace perfectly – go too fast and you’ll end up in agony by the end, go too slow and you’ll miss the cut off times! They’re quite severe cut off times as well, many people get “timed out” each year.

The record for the current course is an incredible 2:46:03, set by Andy Peace of Bingley Harriers in 1996. The fastest ever record was set in 1974 by Jeff Norman, in a time of 2:29:53, on a considerably different course. The race has gone through many permutations in its rich history, and the start was originally at the Hill Inn. The first race, back in 1954, attracted only six competitors!

Last Saturday was the second time I’ve done the race, the previous time being the year before when I hit “the wall” big-time on the ascent of Ingleborough (affectionately know by competitors as Ingle-bugger) and was in agony for the whole of the descent. I finished in 4 hours 48 minutes then, and my aim for this year was simply to beat that time.

Joe Symonds

Joe Symonds from Hunters Bog Trotters, the overall winner, ascending Ingleborough.

The weather was somewhat similar, very windy but with sunny spells. However, this year, it was much colder and conditions underfoot a lot boggier, making the overall pace slower. Nearly 800 of us set of from Horton at 10:00am and after a run through the village, spectated by a surprising number of people, we were off up to Penine Way towards Pen-y-Ghent. It always gets me what an amazing atmosphere there is at the start, there are always loads of people out in Horton and along the Penine Way to Pen-y-Ghent.

I set off faster than last year and arrived at the summit of Pen-y-Ghent nearly 5 minutes up. By Ribblehead I’d gained 10 minutes and was still feeling great. I started to struggle a bit on the ascent of Whernside (the race goes straight up the side, which is horrendously steep at the top), but felt great again descending and running through the checkpoint at the Old Hill Inn, in exactly 3 hours (still 10 minutes up). Lorna and family were waiting just past the Hill Inn with some water and I took the opportunity to take a quick break. By this point, a lot of people I was running around had started to slow down and a group of us (including Wendy Dodds, who won the race back in 1983) went on a bit of an overtaking spree all the way up Ingleborough.


Taking a well-deserved drink on the way up Ingleborough, kindly provided by Lorna!

Notice the windshirt and gloves in the above photo. It was unbelievably cold for the time of year on the summit of Whernside and I was still warming up back in the valley! With the wind chill it definitely felt below zero, and in fact the Fellsman race (a 60ish mile event through the Dales) that was taking place the same day had to be cut short with numerous entrants suffering from hypothermia.


Me at the finish. Notice Wendy Dodds a few seconds behind!

I got much further before I hit the wall this year, and that eventually came about a mile after the summit of Ingleborough. It was my own fault really – I always misjudge how long the descent from Ingleborough back to Horton is and set off far too fast from the summit. I finished (in slightly less pain than last year) in a time of 4:22:57 and a position of 276 (out of 660ish finishers), nearly half-an-hour up on last year – which I was pretty chuffed at!

The race is just fantastic, the atmosphere around the course is electric and it has a real special feel about it that not many other fell races I’ve competed in have. The aim for next year is sub 4 hours, watch this space!