My target today was to run the 13 miles of the 3 Shires fell race in 2 and a half hours. That wouldn’t get me anywhere near the winning time, but as part of my return to full race fitness it would be a significant step forwards.
It wasn’t the most promising of starts, torrential rain, thunder and lightning flashes greeted me as I dragged my weary body out of bed and it didn’t get any better. By the time we had reached the 3 Shires Inn the cloud was hanging low in the valley and the incessant rain was hammering down. The only good news, I’d bagged a lift with one of the race marshals and so had avoided the 2 km walk from Hodge Close quarry.
In the small confines of the 3 shires inn a steamy and humid atmosphere was rapidly building as the 300 or so already damp fell runners snaked their way into registration as everyone else milled about like expectant sheep awaiting to be herded across a field. Before long the tannoy crackled into life as Selwyn, the race organiser, provided the usual pre-race humour before attempting to coerce everyone towards the start line. Despite the race already being late, there appeared to be a subdued reluctance by all concerned to actually start.
Within minutes we were off, the mad dash down towards the river, hundreds of feet sloshing through the surface water that was cascading down the tiny lane. As we neared the bridge, the water got deeper and an enthusiastic Marshall attempted to persuade runners to avoid the queue across the single track bridge and wade through the depths of the river. No-one was forthcoming.
Out and out running is one of my weakest areas at the moment and for this race I was determined to not fall too far back on the outleg run along the bottom of Little Langdale. I pushed at what I thought was a quick enough but sustainable pace as the leaders eeked out more distance.
As the climb to Wetherlam drew near, the racing lines split, some teams favouring a dog-leg and steep climb, others taking the direct and gradual traverse, both steep with little to choose, I stuck to my earlier recce’d line and traversed upwards. Reaching the col, again the racing line split, with to my surprise no-one visible on the grassy ramp running parallel to the ridge. Again I stuck to my pre-race plan and charged upwards along the rock strewn grassy ramp, two-thirds of the way up, with only one runner slight ahead I looked back to see a steady stream of runners following. With only one runner visible head on my line i stopped following and turned left earlier, making a bee-line for the summit, I got their first. I looked at my watch, 43 minutes on the clock, 25 minutes ahead of my previous recce.
Finally my legs could relax slightly as we charged off the summit down towards the prison band and the next climb to the summit of Swirl How. As we did so, the cloud base lifted to reveal the mountain tops. With mist clinging to the valley floor it was breathtaking sight and for a small moment, the race pressures dispersed and I was in a world of my own as I careered down the grass and gravel. The pressure was soon back on as my legs dug in once again on the climb upto Swirl How.
From here, with good visibility it was a fast contour around Great Carrs before, with runners dropping off left ahead of me, I veered back rightwards, against them at least it was the faster line.
I didn’t pause as I crossed Wrynose Pass, a quick nod of acknowledgement to Hodge, one the race marshals and I was off along the path towards Pike O Blisco. It was the first time that my legs had begun to felt any sensation of tiredness as opposed to sheer physical pain (which I had already had a bucket load of). A mixture of fast walking and slow running took me on towards Black Crag and the summit of Pike O Blisco itself. Finally it felt like the home leg was a little nearer.
With runners falling quite literally at my feet, it was a fast and chaotic run down towards Blea Tarn. Conditions underfoot were and had been all day, treacherous. The rock was greasy, the ground waterlogged and everywhere lay traps for a moments lack of concentration or sheer misfortune. I made it through to Blea Tarn unscathed.
From here the climb to Lingmoor Fell nearly destroyed me, my legs were screaming with the physical exertion and it was here that I could hang on to the five or so runners ahead of me no longer. I drew deeply for breath as i attempted eat and keep moving, Nearly choking as I stuffed down an energy bar. I was now mentally I was now running against the clock, and not for position, me head knew it and my body was more than happy to oblige. I dug deep for one last push to the top of the fell.
Seconds later I hit the ground hard, after 11 miles or so of charging my body had given in to fatigue and my mind had switched off. One misplaced step onto one tiny yet greasy piece of rock and my whole body had gone from underneath me, as my ankle and then knee scraped across the ground. Before I had had a chance to stop, I was back on my feet again but as the shock and resulting muscle stiffness kicked in I slowed. The one runner now ahead pulled away slightly.
As I began the fast descent back to the valley floor, the muscle stiffness went and I returned to full speed, drawing in the one runner now left within my grasp. But he was too far in front, and both of us too evenly matched in the final few hundred metres for me to make any further inroads. I told myself it wasn’t worth it anyhow, I would get my time, for today it would be mission accomplished and I ran past the spirited well wishers and supporters to the finish line.
Distance: 13 miles Ascent: 4000ft Time: 2 hrs 18 minutes. Position: 26th.
Winning Time: Carl Bell, 2 hrs.