The day of the Ambleside Sports event dawned sunny, the encroaching front with its associated showers and low cloud fizzling out as it spread eastwards. After a somewhat laboured breakfast I headed across to Rydal Park for this years Rydal Round fell race.
As the tannoy crackled into life across the field, the announcement reminded everyone that the Rydal Round was being held under FRA regulations; full body cover, map, compass, emergency food and a whistle must be carried. I dwelled on the last part of his annoucement….a whistle must be carried. I picked through my minimal fell kit to remind myself that I had left my whistle at home. So Having purchased what was possibly the 20th whistle I own i was ready.
At 12:05 the record 140 or so competitors set off….quickly. Within a few minutes the lead group were already snaking out of sight. I felt out of my depth, one thing was certain, I dont currently have speed running legs. The air was humid, the heavy sound of many feet close by was thundering through my head. I battled to run my own race as the pressure to get ahead of the pack mounted. It was all too easy to go too fast, all too easy to be drawn into the lethargic mellay of a group pace and go too slow. Out of race practise, wilting in the humid air I just kept pushing onwards.
As we finally snaked up the steep fellside and over Nab Scar, the line of runners began to stretch out. A steady pace then ensued over Great Rigg and towards Fairfield. A cluster of runners kept passing me as soon as the ground drew level or there was any slight descent, i was worried. Surrounded by some obviously fast runners, if the ground was favourable i could be left for dead on the long descent from Fairfield.
All I could do was hope there would be a change in the underfoot conditions from easy wide track to something more technical and challenging. As we resumed the ascent up to Great Rigg, I would draw level and then pull-out ahead of the group around me. If nothing else I was determined to make everyone around me feel pressured also, there was only a a few hundred or so metres left until the summit of Fairfield and from there, I told myself it was all more or less downhill.
At 13:04, 59 minutes after leaving Rydal Park I reached the summit of Fairfield at 873 metres. The air was still humid, but a fine drizzle was doing its best to fall from the leaden sky.
From here I stepped up my pace, forcing my legs to run rather than merely tick-over. But again I was caught by a fast group of 3 runners. I kept pace determined not to let them pull-away. But I remained accutely aware of the possibility of being passed by a barrage of runners.
And so as we skirted around the flat summit to east of Fairfield, I was greeted by a heavenly sight, my saving grace, a rocky technical descent down to Link Hause. I saw the broken group ahead slow markedly, this was my chance, I opened up, ripping across the serrated rock bands and scree, catching and passing five runners or so in a matter of metres, I would not see them again. After a short pull over Hart Crag it was on towards Dove Crag, I lengthened my stride, skirting around the summit, bounding across the tussocks, passing another runner before the descent steepened once more towards High Pike.
Worried about being caught from behind, intent on catching the lone runner in front, I let gravity do the work, I dont think i could have ran down any faster from High Pike, at times I felt like i was bouncing down the undulating slope. I thundered past another runner, who would go onto be 1st Female, by now I had injected so much pace, I told myself I could not afford to slow down, and so the pain of the last final and short climb as I skirted around Low Pike began to bite.
As I scampered across the boundary wall, that pain and exhaustion began to start playing tricks with my mind, that can only come from lack of race fitness. But I kept going, slowing slightly but still catching more runners, before I could hear the distant sound of applause and the tannoy system, the end was in earshot and soon to be in sight. Picking up the pace once more, I crashed down the last paths and tracks, another runner was passed, I felt like I was close to tears.
Running past a marshall, i heard the lady shout ’96’. In the frantic haze that my head was in, I contemplated having run so hard and finishing in 96th place, how could that be? It hadnt occurred to me at that time that she was simply shouting the number of my shirt! And as I turned into Rydal Park, a quick glance around gave me the reassurance that no-one was going to catch me, the next runner ahead was too far away to catch, and so i dug deep one last time, my last battle now with myself alone, to reach the finish line.