Wednesday, 23 October 2013

British Fell Relay Race 2013

I had the delightful task of leading out the Glossopdale Harriers Ladies team in the 2013 British Fell Relay Race held in Llanberis last Sunday. To be fair, I'd asked for that leg, it being a) the shortest, b) the leg with least ascent, and c) meant I didn't have to hang about getting nervous for 3-4hrs. The idea in my head was to get the leg with the least chance of me losing the most time. Did it work? Who knows. But our team placed 15th/35 and I didn't come last in my leg. To me that's great. Was it fun. Errrm. It was hard, it was damn windy, it rained...a lot. It was very muddy and slippy. Paths were more like rivers. All attributes a good fell race should have. Afterwards I felt like I could have run again...though my lungs at the time would not have been able to push any faster. My lungs really don't like being worked hard in windy conditions.
Final preparations for me in the Glossopdale tent
The first sign that the race would be a tough one was on my recce the day before. The route was basically uphill (mostly steep with a few undulations) for 3km.

The grassy bank topping out of the quarries on recce day - looking up

and looking down
A bit of traversing then a short shallow descent, a short ascent to the trig on Cefn-du (441m). Then a descending boggy path, descent down a rocky track, a very steep descent through bracken on a muddy trod, across fields for 600m on mud/rock/grass and a final stretch of about 600m on tarmac.

What I didn't know is that the actual start line was a further 600m down the tarmac road. Deflated I started right at the back of the pack. An unforgiving gradient and fast start pace left me seriously breathless before I got off-road. I was however determined not to be last as we ran past all the spectators so I pushed on and made my way up the field a little.

Leg 1 me in blue
Climbing through the bracken and quarries was slow. Not only because of the gradient but the shear sogginess of the path, the headwind and narrowness of the path meant that it was difficult to overtake, even if I could have. I grabbed a few places back on the slate steps, which I promptly lost again on the grass bank that climbed out of the top of the quarries. I noted that me and a Carnethy lass were leap-frogging places so figured I couldn't be doing too badly. Turned out I came in a minute or so ahead of her, though I've no idea where I left her.

Nearing the high point of leg 1 on recce day

Most of the race was a blur with me just battling to keep going. Knowing that my other team mates were in the event centre waiting to run their legs kept me moving as best I could. I was disappointed not to be able to run more of the ascent. Even in places I knew I should have been able to run the wind was so fierce it just stopped me from pushing on faster.

The trig point on recce day

Then there was the boggy conditions. In places the grass was disguised as bog which didn't help, leaving my feet sinking 6+inches underground then energy-sapping-shoe-sucking-off leg lifts to take the next step. As I passed through CP1 I knew there wasn't much more ascent. I would hopefully regain some form of regulated breathing on the descent. CP2 was at the summit and some windswept marshalls cheering me on - thanks, I appreciate the encouragement.

The stony track descending - on recce day

My heart rate was almost maxing out even on the descent...maybe that was due to fear on the steep bracken trod section. Then the final traverse across some horrible ground - boggy, rocky, bracken and nettles, a gate or two, a stile, then the final uphill on tarmac. It was quite difficult to keep going on that bit, but with a lot of leg 3 runners already on their way out I had to push on. To be honest I felt quite deflated seeing so many runners going the other way. If it had been a solo race I would have walked up that bit. Think of the team. That's all that kept me going. I know I was never going to compete with the front ladies, but I did my best. I pushed as much as I could and got close to throwing up a couple of times...surely that means I was trying?!

The final descent into the finish area hurt. Tarmac, heavy legs, lungs complaining. The pain of having a u-turn to do at the bottom put me off my stride, then the final metres to hand over to Sue and Zoe.

Me on the final few meters...

And the final dib. My time was 55:07 and 28th/38 ladies on my leg. The rest of the GDH ladies all made up places on their respective legs: leg 2 (Sue and Zoe) in 19th place, leg 3 (Jude and Lins) in 16th, and leg 4 (Caity Rice) giving us a stonking finish coming 3rd in her leg. In total we bagged 15th place. Good running ladies. The Glossopdale men had good races too, the A-Team coming 26th and B-Team in 47th.

Leg 2 coming in...Zoe and Sue running well

Leg 3 heading out...Lins and Jude going so fast they're just a blur

Leg 4 being brought home superbly by Caity

Leg 1 was advertised as 7.4km with 350m ascent. I clocked 8km with 440m ascent. Not much different in length, but a whole lot different for the ascent. Looking at the map the start/finish isn't where we started or finished!!

Will I do a relay again? We'll see. I guess there's too many variables to speculate right now. Either way it's a good day out. The socialising and spectating are brilliant, even in torrential rain. I saw some amazing efforts and team work throughout the day...hats off to the jelly-legs man helped over the line by his partner, and to the chap who's shoe must have disintegrated at some point - top marks for running in your sock (for how long I'm not sure), good on your partner for the piggy-back along the final slate run in. To everyone who took part well done, and a massive thanks to the organisers, marshalls and cooks - it was brilliant.

Wasdale Working Week & time off

Here's some more photographs from my week in Wasdale:

Pre-dawn run found me spooked by sheep eyes

View down Wastwater from just 20m away from our accommodation 
Washing my shoes and legs in Wastwater after a muddy run

The Screes on opposite side of Wastwater

On our day off we headed out for a's some photos from that day...

Climbing up through the bracken onto Whin Rigg - view of Wastwater down to Yewbarrow

Illgill Fell from Whin Rigg

Yewbarrow just popping up....Herdwick sheep never far away

Me fell dancing in the blustery wind as we drop off Illgill to Wasdale Head

Kirk Fell

The Screes from Wasdale Head end
 and some more from the week...

Yewbarrow in the mist at far end of Wastwater

The Screes in the mist

A rare day with virtually no wind giving us plenty of beautiful reflections

Reflections on Wastwater

Reflections and leaves on Wastwater

Panorama view of Wastwater from the Screes path

and ripples on Wastwater

Great Gable with a rain cloud brewing

Great Gable to left, Lingmell to right

Kirk Fell with Great Gable in background

Kirk Fell with Great Gable in background

View from Hardknott Roman Fort

View from Hardknott Roman Fort

Panorama view of Hardknott Roman Fort

A Working Week in Wasdale

Having fancied learning some conservation skills for a while I set out to research what was on offer. When I came across the National Trust Working Holiday in Wasdale it sounded ideal; the jobs to be undertaken were varied and included stone wall building, hedge laying, vegetation removal and river clearing. It's a beautiful locaion, and surely the weather couldn't be too unkind in mid October.

I was joined by another Glossopdale Harrier lady too...Rachel. We drove up early on the Saturday as it was Wasdale Show - worth the drive just for the sheep dog trail races alone (yes, dogs run a race - they follow a aniseed trail scent laid earlier in the day, and they are allowed, even expected to jump over walls). We wandered round a bit then headed about a quarter of the way up Kirk Fell to watch the fell race - a true Lake District toughy which we were not tempted by at just 2.5miles with a steep climb of 2500ft!

Sheep pens at the show and Kirk Fell

Herdwick Sheep with their red dye on for the show
Fell runners using hands to help them up the steep slope
Showground and Wasdale Head in the background
Our first day of work was to clear a beck up at Wasdale Head. Prior to that we returned to the showground to help dismantle the sheep pens - I think the farmer was most pleased to have an extra ten pairs of hands on board for that job. Me and Rachel also had a short unplanned lesson on dry stone walling as we made good a small section of wall knocked over by the fell runners. Finally we headed off to our planned work site. Pulling on wellies and gloves we set too...the day basically involved messing about in a river. It was however a much needed job, and very satisfying to see the water level drop, the beck flow quicker and the banks and walls look much tidier. The farmers fields on the far side of the wall we helped to protect will now be much less likely to flood once the autumn and winter wet weather sets in.

Beck prior to being cleared

Fallen down wall

Wall repaired and beck cleared of rubble/vegetation

Finished...water flowing much better
Day two: and our first day of hedge laying. The delights of blackthorn would become all too clear for me, with three or four impressive stab wounds on my arms and hands. Large splinters were still being pulled out five days later! We were working on a stretch of hedge at Ben Garth Farm, Nether Wasdale. After our initial tentative pruning we soon got the idea that we basically needed to massacre the hedge, leave just the main stem/trunk standing with a few short sections of side branches then cut/saw almost all the way through near the base and 'lay' the hedge. I'd never imagined how brutal laying a hedge would be, but the resulting hedge once it's sprouted and had a few years to produce new shoots (which will in turn be laid) will make a very secure and stock-escaping-proof hedge.

Hedge before any work done

During the work and starting to look very bare
Day three: returning to Ben Garth Farm we continued hedge laying and wished we'd brought t-shirts and shorts. It really was that hot and sunny. So far the weather had been favourable, with just a hint of moisture in the air one day and a touch of a breeze blowing. Finally the hedge was laid. After the obligatory photos of us wielding an axe we headed back to the bunkhouse.

The finished laid hedge

It should be a few years!

Day four: a day off. To be fair, the working hours were such that I didn't really need a day off from it, but it was good to have a day to go exploring in the hills. The only dark cloud on the horizon was actually a dark cloud. The forecast was for rain from 1pm, with winds increasing throughout the morning. Rachel and I agreed an early start would be good to avoid the potential horrendous weather that was heading our way. So, at 8.30am we set off for a long run up Whin Rigg and across to Illgill Fell. The views were stupendous. The wind was buffeting. Waterproof tops were donned at the top of the 600m climb just to protect us from the wind chill but it didn't dampen our spirits as we ran along the saddle (delighting in finding some boggy ground to make us feel at home), up Illgill then down to Wasdale Head.

Had the forecast been better there were so many places we wanted to head off to and explore. Dropping down to Wasdale Head we made a quick visit to the Church of St Olaf (one of Englands smallest churches) then the planned cup of tea at the pub was scuppered because it wasn't yet open. Early starts don't always pay off! Nothing for it but to run back to the bunkhouse and brew up there. In total we did about 18km with 800m ascent. Both of us felt good and virtuous for our early start when the rain started pouring and wind howled harder at 1.10pm. Dinner that evening was in The Strands Inn in Nether Wasdale so not wanting to miss out on the open fire (sadly a feature not present in the bunkhouse) we pulled on waterproofs and walked over the fields to get there early, passing time till the others arrives with books and chit chat.

Day five: the day I'd been looking forward to most, especially after the taster session on Sunday - dry stone walling. We were back at Wasdale Head and treated to glorious sunshine yet again.

Lingmell obscuring our view of Sca Fell

Chicken and Kirk Fell
The views around the various valleys leading off from the work site were distracting and enticing me to go off and explore. I resisted and focused on the task of repairing a wall on a winter sheep holding field. Most of the wall was in good order, but there were several low sections and a couple of obvious bits that had fallen or been pushed down by sheep that needed stripping back and rebuilding.

Wall to be repaired

Starting to strip the wall back

and back...

and rebuilding

nearly there

Finished. Two very proud ladies
One thing for sure, the stones in Wasdale aren't square. Nor do they have many flat surfaces. It's therefore a game of reverse 3D jenga to build walls, using non-facing stones to fill in the middle and prop up and balance the stones you see nicely lined up on the surface. Some of the walls around Wasdale are very thick - so much so that sheep can run along the top of them. The one we repaired and rebuilt wasn't too thick, but still required a double wall structure and filler in the middle.

the distracting view, Great Gable dominating the skyline

Another section to made good

and we're done

Looking much better

A robin watches over our work
All in all this was my favourite day. Rachel and I made a great team with one of us on either side of the wall. The larger section we totally rebuilt was so strong that Andrew the National Trust chap climbed over it and it remained standing. It was very nice to chat to the farmer afterwards and see his appreciation of our hard work. Now his "yows" (ewes to me and you) will be safe come tupping time. Gosh that chap had a strong accent!

Filled pot holes
Day six: and our final working day. No big jobs today, just a few hours spent packing in stone and filler into the potholes on the drive down to the bunkhouse. A very valuable job though, making the driveway much less dangerous and reducing the risk of parts of it being washed away in heavy rain. The best bit was watching Rachel using the motorised wheelbarrow. The rest of the day was spent visiting Hardknott Fort and Eskdale. As luck would have it the rain started on cue as we arrived at the fort - dry weather for work and rain for time off was the theme for the week.

Rachel with perfect handling of the motorised wheelbarrow
The week flew by, I learnt loads, got to meet some wonderful local Wasdale folk and contribute to the good work the National Trust volunteers and wardens do. I'll be back for another working holiday, and would recommend them to anyone who fancies learning new skills and helping out others.

Young Herdwick Sheep...they lose the dark colour as they get older

Hardknott Roman Fort