Thursday, 20 October 2011

UKA Fell Running Relays - 15/10/2011

Mercia Fellrunners do the 2011 Relays
Time for an account of my (and Mercia's) exploits at the fellrunning relays. I hadn't been before, but the event's certainly had the big build up within the club after a very successful trip to Scotland last year.

This year we'd booked the Youth Hostel in Kettlewell for the Friday night, and Mick Boulton drove most of us up in one of his coaches. After beer on the coach (B team only) and a good meal at the Youth Hostel, we headed to the Blue Bell for a bit more B team carbo loading before bed (I'm sure the competitive teams were carefully nursing soft drinks).

On the morning of the event we had a good cooked breakfast and then a team meeting was held at which I was not present. The legs were switched round, so I'd been expecting to run leg 3, the nav leg, with Em, but Paul (rightly as it turned out) reckoned it would be better to go with faster runners on that leg due to the length of it, so Em ended up on the lead out leg (cooked breakfast and all), and I got the anchor leg job for the B team. God, why do I always seem to get the responsibility!

Frosty event field waiting for some action
Anyway we all headed up to the event field via the bus to set up "Chez Pauline", the Mercia nerve centre and feeding station. After a false start near to the loos we successfully relocated to an upmarket area marked "sponsors" on the plan. I guess Pauline's immense charm may have had something to do with this!

MFR Team HQ in prime position
There was frost on the ground and mist above the river as we got set up, and the leg one runners got ready for the mass start, then we were off down to watch leg 1 go off from the middle of the village. We had Tim Davies (A team), Mark Bollom (V40s), Dale Colclough (V50s), Mel Price (ladies) and Em Millington (B team) on the first leg. Suddenly they were off, sprinting down to New Bridge and then out past the car park onto the lower slopes of Birks Fell for the 4.5 mile, 1,100' first leg. Andy Davies (the V40 one) and I watched for a bit and then headed back to the field.

There was a bit of a lull before runners were sighted coming down, and the tannoy announced Tim in second place and Mel as first lady to the top... Tim held his second and brought the A team to the first change over in 33:52, only 7 seconds behind Dark Peak, where Andy Davies (not the V40 one) and Steve Cale took over for the 9.5 mile second leg...

Tim in trademark embroidered faded MFR vest
Mark Bollom was next in, 45th overall (39:35) after a great effort, handing over to Andy Davies (the V40 one) and Mark Agnew.

Mark coming in after a great leg
Next was Mel, a super impressive 54th= in 40:22 and easily first lady home, powering round the field to tag Jacqui Davies and Ruth Stafford.

Then came Dale, 89th in 43:57, sending Matt Clewes and Glenn Davies out on their way.

Dale, battling all the way in
Em was our last runner in, taking a very creditable 48:54 to come in 137th of 182 runners and tag Roland Stafford and Tom Roo out onto leg 2.

Em working hard right through to the handover
The second leg was a hard run with two steady ascents separated by a steep descent into Starbotton, and a long final descent. It seemed to be mostly on tracks but must have had some really boggy bits somewhere up on top, and it really looked to have taken a toll on virtually all the runners as they started to come back in.

Dark Peak were first back in, but only increased their lead over our A team by a few seconds. Andy and Steve had an excellent run and were quickest over one of the sections. They seemed pretty well matched although Steve looked like he'd had a bit of a work out as they came charging back into the field to complete their leg in 01:08:38, only a couple of hundred yards behind DPFR to set Pete Vale and Paul Jones on their way on the nav leg.

The vet 40s were in next, with Mark Agnew clearly having given absolutely everything he had and staying with Andy to record a leg time of 01:28:28. They tagged Stewart Bellamy and Julian Bredbury out onto the nav leg.

Four minutes later the V50s arrived, Glenn and Matt having run a stormer and only taken 22 seconds longer for the leg than Andy and Mark. They passed on to Bob Dredge and Chris Taylor.

Only three and a half minutes after the V50s , Roland and Tom came into the field to complete a storming second leg in 01:27:13. Tom particularly had obviously put a massive effort in to try not to slow Roland down, and the boys put the B team right into the mix. Next to go out were Paul Cadman and Matt Sheehan on the nav leg.

The ladies were last in with a leg time of 1:45:39, the difficult leg having very obviously taken its toll particularly on Ruth who looked shattered. Jacqui and Ruth handed over to Polly Gibb and Kim Braznell.

The changeovers were now coming thick and fast with only 25 minutes between the ladies starting their nav leg and the elite boys coming back in. But oh, how long it seemed between the return of first Dark Peak, then Shettlestone, then Borrowdale, then Pudsey and Bramley and Calder Valley almost together before the yellow vests of Mercia appeared above the wall and came down into the arena. Pete was so disappointed afterwards: they'd made no real nav errors, but I think he's just struggling for fitness and not quite there at the moment. He only ran the leg because Graham Gristwood wasn't available and none of the other elite guys can read a map! Top marks for effort for a top bloke... Paul did his bit too but it was gone - no one's going to take 9 minutes off Lloyd Taggart on a 5.5 mile course... Simon Bailey set off on the anchor leg determined nonetheless to try to salvage something with P&B and CVFR both around a minute and a half ahead, but Borrowdale and Shett looking safe at three and a half and five minutes ahead respectively.

The next news was from the summit of Great Whernside where Lloyd had predictably turned around in the lead. It wasn't long before he was back down, storming into the finish to bring DPFR home in 3:23:50. It gives some idea of the speed of running involved that the total distance was 26 miles and there was 6,700' of climbing in all... Parts of leg 2, almost all of the nav leg and half of leg 4 were over pretty rough trackless ground too...

Things were happening thick and fast at the finish, although I was trying to stay calm for my anchor leg and didn't notice much as I chatted with Ed Davies and Amanda Wright-Smith in the mix area and listened to some music...

The V40s were next into the arena from the nav leg. Stewart and Julian had done a great job, getting round in 01:17:13, 49th fastest for the leg. They handed over to Andy Yapp for the anchor leg.

Three minutes later Morgan Donnelly brought Borrowdale home in second, having run a storming leg (but not quite the fastest) to pull back Shettlestone's one and a half minute lead. Shett were in twenty seconds later, and then, finally, four minutes after that we saw the familiar yellow vest and trademark red shorts as Simon brought home the A team in fourth place, having run 39:16 (the 3rd fastest time of the day) for the anchor leg, and overtaken both Pudsey and Bramley and Calder Valley along the way.

Less than a minute later P&B were home, followed almost immediately by the Mercia V50 nav leg boys, Bob and Chris. They'd done 01:21:40 and were 71st on the leg. They handed over to Ed Davies.

CVFR were in very soon after that handover, and then I caught sight of our B team navigators, Paul and Matt, flying along the wall above the event field - I was up! I passed my fleece to Amanda and jogged over to the start line just in time for Paul and Matt to dib and tag me. They were 81st on the leg in 01:22:28.

You build up quite a bit of adrenalin spending three and a half hours watching other people busting their guts while you're waiting to run and I was off at the sprint, down a couple of lanes and through someone's back yard out onto the road. My leg was a straightforward, mostly runnable, climb of Great Whernside using the road and farm land to Hagg farm (halfway up) and then the tourist path. Running up the track was hard though, with a lady from Dark Peak gradually catching and then passing me (I could do nothing about this - I was working as hard as I could and just wasn't fast enough to hold her off). She helped me keep moving though, as did the thought of all the guys in our teams who'd totally run their guts out.

I kept running hard, past the SportSunday photographer to Hagg Farm where Andy Davies (V40) was waiting with a few words of encouragement.

Coming up to Hagg Farm
I was blowing really hard, and was pleased when the ground roughened and steepened as I moved onto true fell terrain above the farm. Half a minute of hard walking ascent gave me enough of a breather to be able to push on across the gently rising "boggy" half mile at the top of the steep section, and I managed to keep moving well and working hard across here with only a couple of yards of peaty floundering.

There was another short rocky rise at the end of the bog which I part ran part walked, then a couple of hundred yards more rising ground past two marshals to reach the summit. Here a third marshall reminded me to dib and pointed out the way off, running south along the ridge for 150 yards and then following the flags down.

The first mile of descent was over glorious rough moorland, with tussocks, bog holes, and rocks to trap the unwary foot. I went as fast as I dared, but not probably quite as fast as most who ended up with similar times (I was quicker on the way up): my achilles and the remains of the Sedbergh ankle sprain are still not right and were really the limiting factor. Anyway I went down pretty quickly and after a stumble which hurt my ankle and an almost instant dunking for the same foot which seemed to soothe it, I was back through the gate at Hagg Farm and onto the second section of the descent.

Again the route was flagged initially but became clear within a minute or so as a generally gentle downhill on beautifully smooth, runnable, short cropped grass. Three wicket gates rather interrupted my rhythm, but towards the bottom I started to see runners ahead and catch them, going past a couple of straggling nab leg pairs and then an individual runner on sections which steepened for 50 yards just when I needed the advantage that gave me. Keith and Polly were low down on the hill, cheering me on.

The route now passed the finishing point of the Great Whernside race (which goes straight up and down the relays descent route and is about a mile and a half shorter than the relay route), and turned left down a lane before a sharp right in a ford. A marshall saw me overtaking two ladies and shouted me up a timely warning before I tried to change direction in the ford - it was pretty slippery! A hundred yards of fast running down the lane and then I had to turn up a steep bank to climb back above the intake wall for the final run into the finish.

There were two more ladies in front of me (Settle Harriers I think), and I overtook them on the final, gravelly bit of climb up to the intake. Two hundred yards of rough single track and I'm turning into the finishing descent, down a steeply sloping field and into a funnel formed of two stone walls. I can see the finish. I run absolutely as hard as I can into the field and tightly round the bunting.

Coming into the field

I see Al taking pictures, but can't say anything or even gesture. Pauline tells me afterwards that the whole team are giving me a great shout up but I can't hear anything, I'm just focussed on making it to the line.

Really hurting now...
I come round the bend in the bunting and there's a marshall in front of me. I almost fall over as I dib to end the leg and our race.

I stagger forwards 10 yards to the dibber download tent where I do fall over, collapsing onto the marshall removing the dibbers. I get the impression this isn't the first time that's happened to him today. I pick myself up and someone pushes a timing slip into my hand. I leave the tent and fall over again. Sit for a moment, then feel a wave of emotion as I look at my time. It's pride mostly, and relief...

53:21, a lot faster than I'd dared hope. Based on the Breiddens I'd calculated 57:30 as the target time, but there was much more rough ground on this route... I stagger back round the field to the Mercia team tent. Someone clears a chair and makes me sit down. Mark Agnew makes me a cup of tea. Eventually I can breathe enough to drink it. Team photos, still breathing heavily, then another sit down.

Mercia B: Tom, me, Paul, Em, Matt and Roland
Amanda comes in (more cheering) to finish the ladies team's day... More photos: the ladies, then everyone.

Team Mercia
Then we start to pack up. Everything is put away, carried down to the car park, and put on the coach. I find a lager on the coach and it's pretty much gone straight away. My chest is still fluttering even though I finished running an hour ago. Eventually we go to the pub. Two more beers and I start to feel ok!

Coming down off the adrenalin high!
The following day, my legs are ok. Ankles not so, but the big problem is my upper body. I feel like I've been subject to a barrage of body blows in the boxing ring. I guess this is partly stabilising myself on the descent but mostly from how hard I was breathing to keep the speed high on the climb. It carries on into Monday. It's Tuesday afternoon before I even want to run again, but the impulse isn't strong - good job it's the club night and I pretty much have to turn out because I have the register and spare torches.

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