Trofeo Vanoni was my last major race of the season and my plan has always been to enjoy a well earned break from competition before preparations begin for next year. However, it seemed a shame to waste the form I’m in so I decided to have a stab at the Shepherd’s Skyline last Saturday. After all it’s one of the best local fell races and always attracts a stellar field. This year was no exception. Topping the bill was Ian Holmes, the ultimate fell running legend. Holmesy has won the race no fewer than 12 times, set the record of 39.25 in 2007 and has proved year after year than he is the man to beat. Frightening to think he turns 50 at the beginning of December.
Amongst the other favourites to take the win were my club mates Daz Kay and Alex Whittem. Daz is in great shape following the relays in October and recently finished 2nd at Great Whernside. Alex, although not race fit, is always a threat and lives 5 minutes from the start of the race. You can’t put a price on local knowledge and familiarity of the course and terrain. Also in contention were P & B’s Joe Baxter and Clayton’s Chris Holdsworth. Both are in the form of their lives and were looking to take some big fell running scalps.
I’d turned up to have a bash at Holmesy’s very impressive record but the wet weather and heavy bog prevented that from ever happening. Only in perfect conditions will that time ever be threatened. I raced the year he set the record and finished in 3rd place just behind my team mate Karl Gray. In fact until last year I’ve forever been the bridesmaid at the Skyline, finishing 2nd to Holmsey in 2008 and a rampant Graham Pearce in 2009. So it was nice to finally get the win in 2014 and add my name to the list of fell running greats who’ve all tasted victory.
Funnily enough I never actually got the trophy for winning last year as Holmesy has had it since 2011! I suppose if you’ve won it 12 times you might get used to having it in your house, it is after all a very attractive prize, made from wood and carved in the shape of the Stoodley Pike monument, which stands proudly at the head of the Calder Valley. So it was a nice surprise when I turned up on race day to see him jogging up the road with trophy in hand. He’d even had it engraved so it must’ve cost him a fortune! Not the typical behaviour of a tight Yorkshireman, the first thing I asked him was if he was feeling OK?!
With such stiff competition I knew I’d have to be on top of my game to defend my title. I decided to go with my usual tactic of the ‘scalded cat’ start. I put the hammer down from the word go and soon realised it was going to be a very lonely race at the front.
Pictured above: The race about 3 minutes in…the ‘scalded cat’ start pays dividends.
At the top of the first climb I had about 45 secs on Darren Kay in 2nd (I checked our Strava splits like a true addict). From there I settled into a rhythm and continued to pull away from the rest of the field. Thankfully it was one of those races that just went exactly to plan, well for me anyway. By the time I’d reached the pike I had an unassailable lead and only injury could prevent me from taking the win. It was a nice position to be in, in fact the last few miles were quite enjoyable, a rare treat in a competitive fell race.
Pictured above: Working hard on the skyline when I noticed a lesser spotted Woodhead lurking in the long grass (Photos by http://www.woodentops.org.uk)
Behind me it was an entirely different story. Soon after descending onto London Road I glanced back to see an epic battle for 2nd place between 4 of the other pre-race favourites. I was very thankful my bold tactics at the start had paid off.
Pictured above: (L to R) Me in 1st, Holmesy in 2nd, Chris Holdsworth 3rd, Joe Baxter 4th and Daz Kay in 5th (Photos by http://www.woodentops.org.uk)
All 4 men continued to trade blows and exchange positions throughout the race. Holmesy flew down the big descent, Chris and Joe pulled back on the flat and Daz climbed back into contention on his return to the skyline. I was jealous of the spectators, it must’ve been a great race to watch.
As I reached the finish I think everyone was more excited to see who would be the next man over the line. A few people asked me who I thought it might be. I already knew the answer, it was never in doubt.
Pictured above: Ian ‘The Legend’ Holmes sprinting into the finish closely followed by Chris Holdsworth in 3rd and Daz Kay in 4th.
True to form, Holmesy appeared in the distance and cruised to the finish line in full control. As predicted he’d used all of his guile and experience to take the lead on the final downhill. If you’re a half decent descender it’s very unlikely anyone will pass you in the last mile of the race. Holmesy just happens to be the king of the descent, so once he’d hit the track then his 2nd place finish was inevitable.
Thank god for the ‘scalded cat’ start. I might have to try that again next year and pray Tom Adams doesn’t turn up 😉
Pictured above: The Shepherd’s Skyline trophy, finally in my possession!
Next race: Lee Mill Relay (Sunday 29th November 2015)