Monday, 23 April 2012

Anniversary Waltz fell race

I've not done a 'proper' Lakeland fell race since the Three Shires in 2007, mainly due to not being keen enough to put the training in to do myself justice. When the Anniversary Waltz was added to this years Dashers fell race championship my interest was piqued. I knew the race was raved about by the 'cognoscenti' and I thought this might be a good opportunity to test myself and, if nothing else, see a part of the Lakes that I'd not really visited before. A crafty look at the entry list revealed that very few Dashers were going to be taking part: both the Jonathan's (Stubbs and Bruton), Kevin Smith, Pete Murphy, Sarah and myself .
The weather on the drive up was pretty changeable. One minute dry, then spitting, heavy rain, clear again but claggy on the tops and finally back to clear and dry. I'd taken Jonathan B up with me and we found Stubbsy, Pete and Sarah esconced in their respective camper vans in the car park field. It turned out that Kevin had gone awol and so only 5 Dashers took part. Jonathan B had proudly shown me his nice new Harveys waterproof map of the course that had taken a bit of time and effort to get in time for the race on the way up but when we entered the field where the race started and went through the kit check he had managed to leave it in the car! Luckily I had brought a few copies of the rather poor map downloaded from the event website and handed him one. We lined up ready for the off and I took a minute to admire the setting. The stunningly attractive hills of the Newlands Valley surrounded us and they were fortunately clear of clag.
Off we set and I found myself a little behind the Jonathan's and had to work my way up through the field to catch them. The initial stages of the race are pretty gentle and encourage you to pick the pace up however it pays to excercise a little caution as the race is 11.5 miles and has 3600' of climb. A big chunk of the climb comes early on with the ascent of Robinson. I'd done my homework and seen the profile of the race so had an idea of what was to come. On we trotted and after a while Stubbsy dropped behind. Now, on the first decent length fell race of the championship, Heptonstall, 'young' Jonathan had gone off to quick and suffered the consequences later on. I figured that he'd learned that lesson now and so sitting back and hoping that he'd crash and burn wasn't really going to be a good game plan. We reached the foothills of Robinson and, seeing as I was feeling good I thought I might as well play to my strength (note singular!) and put it in a bit on the climb.
I got my head down and gradually worked my way through runners ahead of me as they began, one by one to adopt the fell runners walk, and I managed to just keep jogging. Eventually it go so steep that I had to walk too but found it still possible to overtake, taking a wide line away from the the queueing masses. Nearing a summit I thought we might be pretty near the top. How wrong I was... There was about another 4 false summits before we reached the point where the real climbing started. And I mean real climbing. Hands and feet struggling for grip on the smooth rocks of the crags. A wrong move here and it could easily have resulted in serious injury or worse. I looked behind hoping that I'd dropped JB and couldn't help a rueful laugh to myself when I spotted him about 30 yards behind. I wasn't going to shake him easily! Finally reaching the true summit I couldn't help but pause and take in the views around me.
The next part of the race is a roller coaster along the summits around the valley. Plummet and climb. Hindscarth and then up towards Dale Head. I'd lead on the climbs and Jonathan would sprint away on the descents. The rocky descent of Dale Head was where it went downhill, literally and metaphorically. My trail shoes had offered poor grip before I'd reached this point and on the technical, rocky crags I found myself becoming overly cautious. My upcoming trip to the Pyrenees played on my mind and self preservation kicked in. Jonathan had no such worries and I could see him getting further and further in front.
High Spy reared up but and climbing advantage I had was now lost and I could see I was not making any ground. I slogged on and started to feel the tell tale twinges that warn of cramp as I reached the busy summit of Cat Bells. Weaving my way through the walkers I began the final descent. Ultra steep but grassy I was still struggling. Cramp in my left hammy and pain in my feet as my toes crushed against the front of my shoes due to the incline. No sign of JB ahead but by now I was more worried about being caught. When I got chance I shot a few rearward glances in case Stubbsy's flourescent yellow thermal top was in sight. I didn't spot him but I couldn't risk anything and pressed on towards the very welcome finish line.
Jonathan had finished almost 10 minutes in front of me, and had had another great run. Despite my struggles on the descents I was quite happy with 2:15. When we got back to the car and I checked my phone I found a text from Stubbsy informing me that he'd had to pull out after 3 miles. We both felt gutted for him.
We nipped back to the hall where we registered to get our free veggie chilli and beer (!!). Our times were checked on the preliminary results but there was no sign of Pete and Sarah's times by the time we left.
On the drive home we reflected on what had been a great day out. Jonathan Bruton goes from strength to strength with every race and it's great to see him enjoying taking part. As for me, apart from sore feet, I took away memories of a truly superb race route with magnificent views. Thanks to the organisers and marshalls.

Pic by I W Charters

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