I’d not ran in many ‘short’ fell races before. I’m not really sure why. Perhaps the thought of an intense and furious sprint was off putting, maybe it was the thought of going to such effort for such little return in terms of time on your feet, maybe I’d just been scared of not being very good.
Whatever it was had been banished during my calendar planning for March. The last day of the month was to see me entering the Causey Pike fell race. And for the record, if you too are thinking of entering a short fell race, you’d be hard pushed to find fault with this one. Yes, It has a certain reputation, it’s not a race for novices, it’s fairly steep on the way up and fairly steep on the way down, with little else in between except for a hellish fast track that’s probably more challenging and, judging by the bloodied legs of various competitors, more risky than the rest of the course put together. But in spite of all that its great.
Perhaps my enthusiasm was swelled by the sunlight that was forcing itself upon the Newlands valley on Sunday afternoon, perhaps it was the overly generously sized cup of tea I was given on completing the race or perhaps it was because that despite only being 7.5 kilometres in length it packs in everything a fell race should. The route rears up the fell side out of the village of Stair, with the option of following the zig-zagging track or, as most seem to, attacking the fell-side head-on, hands on knees stuff, head down. It then relents, giving way momentarily to a fast trod that winds it’s way through the heather before once again steepening for the last bit of climbing to the top of Causey Pike itself.
The first ten minutes of the race felt as they always seem to, like hell. A panicky chase where I instantly found myself lagging behind before, as the ground steepens, the field spreads out and I find my pace. But my legs didn’t feel tired this time, all the road cycling I’ve been doing is beginning to pay off, I kept within shouting distance of some noted runners that I’d ‘marked’ and ploughed upwards, trying not to get bogged down in the inevitable sheep trod of runners who slow as things get steep. Knowing when to dig deep and overtake or sit behind and take the tow is one of the hardest things to get right for me. But by the time the summit of Causey Pike approached I was feeling positive, I climbed well in the final stages passing a stream of fellow Ambleside club runners.
Upon reaching the summit, no sooner have the marshals given you a cheery cry of encouragement and you’re racing back towards the valley floor down tortuously steep grass, dotted with never tussocks waiting to ensnare you. I’ll be honest I quite like that type of terrain, it’s strangely engaging and compared with most other aspects of fell running, relatively straightforward in my eyes. At this point I was fairly confident no one would pass me on this stage and they didn’t, I overtook one other runner and made ground on a couple of the guys in front. It was once in the narrow groove of the valley floor, with only one way out that I started to feel the pressure of being hunted down again. I know on the flat or slight descents my out and out running speed is not what it should or could be, it’s my real weak point.
What’s more the lightning fast sprint down the rock choked track, pitted and uneven, uncompromisingly hard track was hard work. Every foot strike reverberated through your body and with razor edged slates waiting to slice the flesh of tiring and lazy legs I switched from one side of the track to another trying to find a softer, easier racing line. So to only be overtaken by one runner and for me to overtake one other myself was a real result on this section of the race.
By the time I hit the Tarmac again I felt able to relax a little more and hammered down the las few hundred yards, as a winning Rob Jebb sauntered back up the road on his warm down run. My overall position was not amazing, but for now I was happy enough with my performance and even happier to have run this ‘short’ race. Thoroughly recommended.
Causey Pike. Distance: 7.2 km. Ascent: 543m. Time: 40 mins 47 seconds. Position: 31st