The loss at the hands of Borrowdale in the Hodgson Brothers Mountain Relay really hurt, as a team we were all gutted. So after 2 weeks of licking our wounds, multiple reccies of Pendle and serious team talks, it was now time to make amends and lay a few demons to rest. The day of reckoning was finally upon us…The British Fell Relays 2015.
This year we had the added pressure of starting as favourites with our South Yorkshire neighbours, Dark Peak. Last month it was we who emerged victorious by beating DP to the Open and V40 titles in both the English and British Championships. In my opinion if you are the best team over the season then you need to prove you’re also the best team at the relays, on a day when every club fields their strongest 6 runners.
Our first challenge of the day was to put up the CVFR club tent. There were plenty of people to help out but it certainly wasn’t our finest display of teamwork. The women suggested we read the instructions, the men suggested we didn’t. For me reading the de-structions is like having to read a map during a fell race, it takes time and I’m not prepared to stop and do it. So in typical fashion we tore open the bag, began assembling the poles and 5 minutes later realised the poles we’d erected on the inside of the tent should’ve been on the outside. Whoops. Personally I didn’t really think it made a difference anyway – the weather was good, it wasn’t going to blow down and perhaps no one would notice anyway. Also best to get any mistakes or bad examples of teamwork out of the way before the race and when it really matters!
Pictured above: The CVFR tent
Thankfully our preparation for the relay itself was much better. We were all more than ready, everyone knew their legs and we’d all been training really hard. Plus Daz Kay had spent just as much time planning his red and white outfit as he had on reccies. Only a terrible nav leg, accident or a faster team would deprive us of the win.
One thing I’d not mentioned to the lads is that prior to the race every team had been asked to provide some information about every member of the team (2015 achievements etc.). This was so the race commentator would have plenty to say as we finished each leg and approached the changeover in the final field. I’ve included the commentary I provided at the beginning of each leg description…(time for me to own up lads just in case you were wondering how they knew so much about you – sorry! You can get your own back at some point I’m sure)
Leg 1: Solo leg, 7K with 450m of ascent
Lancashire Fell Running Champion 2015
4th at Guisborough 3 Tops (English Champs)
Owns the best and most expensive running gear in the country
Single and looking for a new relationship- open to offers and not fussy- men/women
2nd smallest of the 3 Calder Valley hobbits.
We decided to stick the mighty hobbit, Timbo ‘Baggins’ Ellis on leg 1 as we wanted a strong start. Timbo has been running well on the short stuff recently so it made perfect sense. We knew he’d be well up in the mix and pushing for the win.
As expected, the legend that is Rob Hope romped home in 1st place for Pudsey & Bramley despite struggling with a serious cold. We were however delighted when Tim followed him home in 2nd place and just 6 seconds behind, with Helm Hill’s Mark Addison in 3rd. It was the perfect start.
Pictured above: Tim working the climb on Leg 1 (Photo credit to Woodentops https://plus.google.com/photos/110439573756197443848/albums/6206882697492717585)
Leg 2: Paired leg of 15k with 630m of climb
Yorkshire Fell Running Champion 2014 & 2015
Represented Yorkshire, England x 2 and Great Britain (World Mountain Running Championships) during 2015.
Top 5 finishes in English and British Championship races- Flower Scar and Ras Y Moelwyn.
7th in the UKA Mountain Running Championship
3rd in the Snowdon International
Selected to represent Snowdon GB team in the Trofeo Vanoni relay in Morbegno, Italy at the end of October 2015.
3rd at Ras Y Moelwyn (British Champs) and Bradda Niarbyl (English Champs)
Robbed of a top 5 finish in the English champs at Guisborough
Wales’ finest export.
Best beard in fell running (apart from that s**t hairy bit under his bottom lip)
Worst shorts in fell running.
Pictured above: The map of Leg 2 inc. checkpoints
The start of leg 2 felt like a 400m race and it was all my fault. I like to start fast, it suits my style of running and after a good strong blast I can quickly settle into a rhythm. By the top of the first field we’d managed to wrestle the lead from Pudsey’s Graham Pearce and Joe Baxter but there was still a long way to go.
I’m not sure what it is about the relays but because I get so fired up for the win my only tactic is to run eyeballs out and I could tell Math was in for a rough ride because I felt super strong from the off. As we entered the woods and began the first climb, I began to pull away and from this point we were in control of the race. Now I just needed to make sure Math could stay with me. Plus we needed to try and shake the P&B boys from our tail, easier said than done!
I thought before the race that we’d be the pair to beat on leg 2 but I didn’t consider the fact that we’d be winning the race within the first minute. Now it might sound daft, but being in the lead didn’t really help our chances of running the fastest leg because a) I was in charge of navigation (the route wasn’t flagged) and b) We’d nobody to follow. I won’t lie, I was really nervous as Math hadn’t reccied the leg and I’d slept since I reccied it, so there was always a good chance we might go wandering on the moor. To put the situation in perspective I once got lost in a cross country race that I’d organised! I’ve also gone wrong a couple of times on the Yorkshireman Half Marathon, despite doing the route every year for the last 7 years… so I think I’ve made my point 😉 I always find it easier to chase a lead than to protect it so we really did have our work cut out.
My first major worry was getting the line down to checkpoint 4, which was located at the bottom of Ashendean Clough. I knew the teams behind would all follow us and I didn’t want to get caught in the deep heather and bracken only for them to skip round us and take the lead. I decided to play it safe and stick to all the sensible route choices and to the lines I’d decided to take prior to the start of the race.
Thankfully we arrived quickly and safely at checkpoint 4 and the next section was the steep climb to the memorial stone on Mearley Moor. Within seconds of the ascent Math was paying for our fast start and Pudsey were slowly pulling us back. I knew if we were going to win this relay we’d have to make every second count and give our leg 3 runners the best possible start. Therefore instead of skipping off up the climb whilst Math suffered, I dropped back and helped to push him up the steep section with a series of very hard efforts. I think it made a big difference because we managed to extend our lead just enough to descend out of sight to checkpoint 5.
Pictured above: The climb to the Memorial stone, checkpoint 4 to 5 (Photo credit to Adrian Nicholls http://anevent.co.uk)
From checkpoint 5 to Ogden Clough there was serious route choice. Follow the stream up the valley or climb up steeply to Black Hill and onto the fast runnable track at the top. I opted for the latter, still unsure whether it was the best choice. Had we been following anyone else at this point perhaps I may have chosen differently, but this was the way I’d decided to go after my recce so I had to play it safe.
As we began to climb I turned to see Graham and Joe descend down the wrong path and they were way off checkpoint 5. It would have been easy to turn a blind eye and let them struggle to find the right way but I’m a true sportsman and if I’m going to win then I’m going to win because I/we are the best on the day. I shouted to Graham and pointed him the right way. We’ve been friends a long time and I thought it was the right thing to do. Others reading this might disagree!
The climb up to the track seemed to take forever but I knew once we got there Math would find his running legs again and we could stride out to Ogden Clough. It was a relief when we finally made it and true to form he quickly lifted the pace.
Once we hit the top of Pendle Hill and checkpoint 8 we were back in full flow…
Pictured above: The descent from Pendle summit (Photo credit to Woodentops https://plus.google.com/photos/110439573756197443848/albums/6206906474650853409)
We flew down the descent and the run in to the finish almost felt effortless as I could hear the support from the crowds on our arrival to the finish.
Pictured above: The final 1km
I was happy we’d done our bit and I was even happier we’d manage to extend the lead with Dark Peak coming through in second place. As we handed over to Logie Bear and Daz on leg 3 we now had to pray the God of Nav would be kind to us and bring them home in contention.
Leg 3: Paired navigation leg
The best orienteer in the club- given the huge responsibility of not getting lost on leg 3
Doesn’t like losing or making mistakes.
In charge of shouting at everyone else in the team
Most colour co-ordinated, fashion conscious man in fell running
Owns 25 pairs of different coloured Oakley sunglasses just in case he switches clubs again
Owns shares in Costa coffee
Loves to win, hates to lose. Argumentative, judgemental and not afraid to say what he thinks.
Has battered himself into shape for the relays and reccied each leg at least 10 times
Now I’d love to provide commentary on what happened during leg 3 but in truth I’ve no idea. I don’t even know if half of the runners on leg 3 knew what happened on leg 3!
We were hopeful our lads would do the business but equally there was also a good chance they might murder each other halfway round. Logie Bear likes to take charge and let others follow his lead. Daz also likes to take charge and isn’t afraid of saying what he thinks. Pairing them together was a bold and daring move, I can only compare it to the time I dropped a couple of Mentos in a bottle of Coca Cola. It didn’t end well. Hopefully this would be different?
By the sounds of it the lead changed more times than Daz changes his sunglasses. There were tears of joy, tears of frustration and for everyone watching tears of relief when we saw the runners approaching the changover. In one of the closest fought relays in years, no fewer than 4 teams sprinted in together with Pudsey and Bramley leading the charge! Thankfully the red and white vests were just behind Horwich and Keswick which meant Karl Gray on Leg 4 was still within touching distance of the lead. That bad news was we all knew it would take an unbelievable effort for him to win.
Leg 4: Solo leg, 8K with 400m
World V45 Master Mountain Running champion
3rd at Duddon (English Champs)
4th at Bradda Niarbyl (English Champs)
V45 Gold medal winner in the English Championships
Tallest of the 3 Calder Valley hobbits
Calder Valley legend
John Heneghan (P&B) led the race out, followed by Sam Stead (Keswick), Jonathan Bruton (Horwich) and Karl Gray (CVFR).
There was much debate over who would take the win once these first 4 runners passed us on the first climb. There was also much doubt as to whether Karl could do the business, he was chasing the first 3 right from the start.
Pictured above: Karl climbing to the summit of Pendle Hill (Photo credit to http://fellephant.com)
I never doubted him for a minute. He’s in superb form and I knew no one would be able to match his speed on the descents. Despite my confidence it certainly didn’t stop me from being nervous!
We watched, we waited, we guessed, we prayed and we hoped. Eventually a figure emerged in the distance. It wasn’t clear at first but then another appeared and another behind them. They quickly disappeared behind the line of trees in front of us and when they finally emerged it was Karl who was now leading the race. We couldn’t believe it!!! (well I wasn’t surprised – just VERY relieved!).
Pictured above: King Karl at the finish of the ‘glory’ leg
It was an amazing feeling and one we’ve all been waiting for for a very long time. I still can’t quite believe we’ve done it. Team gold in the relays now proves we are officially the best team in Britain! It was close and it could’ve easily been a very different result had something gone wrong but the main thing is we’ve done it! Worth all the training and certainly worth the wait.
To add to our achievement our Calder Valley women also made the podium with a superb 2nd place!!! Well done ladies!!!
Pictured above: The victorious CVFR men’s team and the CVFR women’s team
I was also really pleased to see Pudsey & Bramley in 2nd, they’ve enjoyed a revival this season and it shows they’re back as a major force in fell running. Dark Peak rounded off the medals making it a clean sweep for the Yorkshire teams. Keswick unfortunately just missed out on a top 3 but they won’t be too disappointed I’m sure. I’ve no doubt 2016 will be a big year for them and apart from Phil Winskill 😉 they’re a relatively young team with bags of potential.
I also need to take this opportunity to thank Clayton Le Moors Harriers and everyone involved in organising and making the relay such a brilliant and memorable event. You all did an outstanding job!
Pictured above: The prestigious winners shield and my team gold medal
So what’s next for me?
….Morbegno, Italy for the Trofeo Vanoni Relay with Tom Adams and Rob Hope (Snowdon GB team).
I’ve got my fingers crossed there’ll be even more to celebrate this year!
Pictured above: The Snowdon GB team vest