Ennerdale Horseshoe Fell Race

Ennerdale Horseshoe Fell Race 2012

Ennerdale, the longest of the Lakeland Classics, 23 miles of challenging, sometimes complex and certainly arduous fell running which over its length manages to ascend such peaks as High Stile, Green Gable and Pillar, with vertical height gain totalling well over 2000 metres. By anyone’s standards this is a tough day out.

Skirting round the grassy slopes of Brandreth I was feeling its full effects, running low on energy and feeling the mental anguish of an earlier route choice error all I could see was a group of runners gradually pulling away as I felt myself getting slower and slower. I was at my lowest point.

Just an hour and a half earlier I was stood in a midge infested scout camp-ground, contemplating why we do these things. Numerous light hearted comments could be heard about it ‘being a long way’ from even the most seasoned and talented of runners. There are fell races, and then there is Ennerdale, by the time your on the home straight in most races, you’re not even half way around Ennerdale. Feel like retiring and pick the wrong moment and there is no short way home.

‘You’ve done this before, I’ll follow you’ I muttered to Mike Vogler as we did our best to avoid the swarm of midges enjoying the morning feast of a hundred or so fell runners. ‘No pre-race bullshit’ was Mikes retort. This was a fair point, but with a grating knee, a pain / discomfort i’d not felt in many months I was feeling about as pessimistic as I’ve done all season at the start of a race.

Thankfully by the time I’d reached the first checkpoint of Great Borne, I’d forgotten all concerns, the knee pain seemed to have been run off and other than a totally desperate need to take a pee was feeling good. I survived until Great Bourne when I could go on no longer without taking a pit stop. I was cursing myself but managing water intake sometimes feels nigh on impossible and clearly today I’d not quite got it right!

Dropping down from Gamblin End I could see several of the other runners ahead of me sticking to the main ridge, yet despite having not recce’d the shortcut, I could see the obvious traverse to Scarth Gap on the Buttermere side. I headed around to the north, followed by one other runner and quickly found myself having made up around a minute of time and clawed back around 400 yards.

I was therefore even more annoyed with that one stupid error. Heading from Scarth Gap, I traversed too far and too low around Haystacks, ending up negotiating loose scree and detouring away from the shortest route towards Blackbeck Tarn. By the time I was back on the racing line I had lost the best part of 3 minutes, lost four places and to make matters worse was feeling like I was running on empty.

The previous weeks 20 mile recce in the searing heat had taken more out of me than i had perhaps realised. Whilst the intense heat had gone, with the early morning mist clearing and the winds falling light it was still uncomfortably warm and I was struggling to maintain a comfortable pace. Devouring a banana, followed by a fistful of Jelly Babies I focussed on reaching the summit of Green Gable. But the slopes of Brandreth were literally sapping the strength from my legs. It felt like a long, slow walk to Green Gable. I barely registered the Marshall waving frantically at me. I looked at my watch, I was well up on my previous weeks Recce, but it was now getting very tight for me to get round in under four and a half hours, on the assumption that I wouldn’t be getting any faster.

Just over 3 hours had passed by the time I reached the summit of Kirk Fell. ‘You’re 19th’ came the encouraging words from one of the marshals, that wasn’t so bad I thought. I turned north and headed for the ‘Bob Graham’ gully that offers the fastest descent down to Black Sail Pass. I began dreaming about tea and chocolate digestives as I began the long haul towards Pillar.

On the long haul a little strength began to return to my legs, a combination of jelly baby fuelled energy and the knowledge that I’d ‘turned the corner’, was over half way and on the return leg. I passed Matt Reedy who had clearly hit some kind of wall and was ‘seeing stars’. I checked he was ok and continued onto the summit. A much needed cup of water was on offer at Pillar, I could have drank a litre but the small plastic cup was hastily seized with dehydrated gratitude.

From here I was running blind, I’d not recce’d this part of the course but luckily the weather was clear and despite losing a little time over Scoat Fell, taking in the summit rather than traversing it was a steady and largely downhill rundown the long grassy ridge towards Iron Crag. The last watering hole lay at the col between Caw Fell and Iron Crag where the welcome sight of Mike Robinson clutching a raft of drinks bottles greeted me as I pounded down the grass slopes above Silver Cove.

I was approaching the four hour mark and had another 5 or 6 kilometres still to run with one last climb. I couldn’t be happier when I reached the ninth and last checkpoint on the summit of Crag Fell. From here it was an exhausted descent following the flagged route back to the shores of Ennerdale Water.

Half an hour later I found myself waist deep in the cool waters running through from Ennerdale. For ten minutes I contemplated the last four or so hours, happy to have finally completed one of the greats of Lakeland fell running, and working out how I was going to run it faster next time.

Distance: 23 miles / 37 km Ascent: 7513ft / 2290 metres Time: 4 hours 39 minutes Position: 19th

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About Richard Talbot

An accomplished fell-runner as well as being a keen climber and mountaineer. Since 2005 he has worked for the UK based manufacturer Mountain Equipment and is currently Director of Product. He has worked in the outdoor industry for over 15 years.
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