Râs Yr Wyddfa

Snowdon3

I knew July would be a tough month for running but I didn’t realise just how tough…

2nd July: The European Mountain Running Championships (Arco, Italy)

9th July: Sedbergh Sports (The British & English Fell Running Championships)

16th July: Râs Yr Wyddfa (The Snowdon International)

30th July: British Mountain Running National Championships incorporating the World Championship Trial (Uphill) and Senior Home Country Internationals (Skiddaw, Keswick)

It was a fixture list I was both relishing and dreading at the same time. Three unbelievable opportunities to compete for my country and one huge race that could potentially decide who would be crowned the winner of the English and British Fell Running Championships. It was also set to be an extremely busy and stressful month at work so I knew I’d be pushed to my absolute limit both mentally and physically.

First up was the European Mountain Running Championships in Arco, Italy where I was fortunate enough to represent Great Britain for a second successive major competition. Finishing in 26th place was a slight disappointment but winning team bronze more than compensated for my lack of personal achievement. It was also an experience I’ll never forget with memories to last a lifetime. The race however did leave me feeling very exhausted and the prospect of racing hard again the following week left me wondering if I’d perhaps bitten off more than I could chew.

Sedbergh Sports

At the beginning of the season, trying to win the English Fell Running Championships was never on my radar, and if I’m honest it still isn’t. However, I’m currently topping the table so it would be a real shame not to complete the series. Therefore I decided that I’d race at Sedbergh and as it was only a 4 miler it wouldn’t trash my legs too much before Snowdon. I also decided that because the latter was more important, I’d train hard right through the week and not rest up before the race. I knew I needed a top 5 finish to keep myself in contention for a medal at the end of the season. The only problem was that almost every top fell runner in the UK had turned up to earn valuable championship points.

27626325373_d7aa4e0dcf_o.jpgPictured above: Where’s Wally? Can you spot the red & white stripes of CVFR? The start of the race (courtesy of Stormin’ Norman Berry)

As the race began I did wonder if I was being overly ambitious with my aim of a top 5 – the pace at the front was frightening. Perhaps someone had told Carl Bell (above right) that it was a 400m race because he set off like a stabbed rat through the first field. Either that or the prize money on offer was clearly enough to pay off his mortgage. He was a man on a mission. I had to remind myself that although this was a ‘short race’ there was still one hell of a climb to negotiate. I could only smile as half the field sprinted past me like I was stood still. I tried not to panic about being in about 40th place but instead put faith in my climbing ability to save the day.

“IT FELT LIKE I WAS SUMMITING EVEREST. MY LUNGS WERE ON FIRE, MY HEART WAS READY TO EXPLODE AND MY LEGS WERE LIKE JELLY

As the hill rose sharply, the race began to open up and I made a bold move on the climb. My cautious tactics had paid dividends and as we hit the summit I was safely into the top 10. I was beginning to feel more confident about a top 5 finish especially as my good friend Kirsty Hall had assured me that the second climb was ‘easy’. With this in mind I’d hammered the first ascent and was all set for coasting blissfully towards the highest checkpoint.

28241762445_6447f46220_o.jpgPictured above: The steep climb to the summit (courtesy of Stormin’ Norman Berry)

Now I can only assume that Kirsty ran up a different second climb to me, OR that she’d descended too early OR perhaps she just has a really s**t sense of humour, because ‘easy’ was not a word I’d have used! It felt like I was summiting Everest. My lungs were on fire, my heart was ready to explode and my legs were like jelly. To be fair to Kirsty the gradient wasn’t actually that steep, but I was breathing so hard that I thought I might be having an asthma attack and I don’t even have asthma. I dug really deep and endured a few minutes of extreme physical torture (which felt like hours) before I finally caught sight of the summit. I drew my breath, increased my stride and made the swift transition from laboured climb to mindless descent.

SedberghPictured above: Flying down the final descent (wearing inov-8 x-talon 225)

Thankfully it didn’t take long before I was back in full flow. The steepest part of the descent allowed me to fly past Morgan Donnelly and Joe Symonds before setting my sights on the Great White Hope (AKA. Rob Hope). I passed Kirsty on the way down but I was too short of breath to shout profanities, although I had forgiven her by this point. Instead my mission was to try and catch Rob, which quickly turned into trying not to get caught myself as I realised that I was actually suffering too much to launch any kind of attack of my own. Besides, I was more than content with 5th and there was clear daylight in front and behind. Best to save my legs and energy for Snowdon next week!

Mens results | Womens results | Junior results | Photos | Strava

Râs Yr Wyddfa

At the beginning of the year I made my intentions very clear. I wanted to try and win the Snowdon International and represent Great Britain at the European Championships. I’ve been training hard over the last few months, trying to improve my climbing ability as much as possible with some tough sessions on Trooper Lane. These weekly hill reps have been the foundation of every racing success I’ve enjoyed so far this season. However, just lately I’ve been feeling less confident about my chances of winning and in hindsight I was probably running at my peak in May. I couldn’t help thinking that this race may have come two months too late.

“I ACCEPTED THE FACT THAT I MIGHT NOT BE AT MY ABSOLUTE BEST AND I TOLD MYSELF THAT WHATEVER HAPPENS ON THE DAY I’D GIVE IT 110%

The week before the big day I was still feeling tired and lethargic. I did the worst thing possible and convinced myself that I was more ill than I actually was. There was almost a point where I considered dropping out of the race but then I feared I may have to rename my blog to something more suited to my negative attitude. I had to have a strong and very firm word with myself to alleviate any self-doubt in my mind. All athletes at some point lack confidence but I wasn’t going to allow myself to suffer anymore. There was absolutely no way I was going to pull out. Instead I thought about all the hours of training I’d done to earn my England vest and that feeling of immense pride I get whenever I represent my country. I thought about all my family and friends who were supporting me either with kind words of encouragement or by travelling hundreds of miles to watch the race. Plus I’d booked my hotel now and being a tight arsed Yorkshireman there was no way I was going to cancel last minute and lose any money! I accepted the fact that I might not be at my absolute best and I told myself that whatever happens on the day I’d give it 110% and I just hoped it would be enough.

IMG_4811Pictured above: Possible name change for my blog? No chance!

RACE DAY

The stage was set for a classic showdown, with Luca Cagnati (Italy), Julien Rancon (France), Chris Smith, Rob Hope and Ricky Lightfoot (England) a few of the main protagonists. As I stood on the start line I gave myself a realistic aim of a top 5 finish. The field was super stacked but I knew I was still one of the favourites and if I could climb well then I’d be difficult to beat on the descent.

IMG_4834Pictured above: The start of The Snowdon International 2016

I sat cautiously in the middle of the pack as we ran out of the race field and along Victoria terrace. I knew only too well what lay in store for us as we began to climb steeply up the road and onto the mountain path. It would be another 4.4 miles before we hit the summit of Snowdon and there was 994m of ascent standing in our way. With an average gradient of 13.4% (and a max of 32%) it’s always wise to hold back in the first few miles or risk paying the price for overcooking the start. Unless of course you’re Andi Jones or perhaps Chris Smith, who today was clearly flexing his muscles by taking full control of the race on the lower slopes of the mountain. He set a fast but consistent pace on the climb and the rest of us could only watch in amazement as he continued to open up a huge lead by the halfway cafe. It was obvious that he was the man to beat and such was his dominance that we were clearly now contesting a race for 2nd place.

IMG_4836.JPGPictured above: Leaving the road and joining the mountain path

“I WAS HANGING ON FOR DEAR LIFE AND TRYING NOT TO LOSE TOO MUCH TIME TO MY RIVALS – THE VERY DEFINITION OF DAMAGE LIMITATION

Chasing him was a small group led by England’s Chris Farrell, with Rancon and Nicola Pedergana (Italy) in hot pursuit. I was running with Cagnati and Hope and working hard to maintain the pace. At this point I was perfectly placed for a podium finish but I was concerned about how hard I was having to work to stay in touch with the leaders. I didn’t feel great and I was breathing heavily as I laboured on the climb to Clogwyn, one of the steepest sections of the course.

13645216_10210025874346368_716936906825773174_nPictured above: Working hard (probably too hard!) on the climb with Italy’s Luca Cagnati (wearing inov-8 Trail Talon 250)

It honestly felt like I was breathing through a straw, I was forcing oxygen into my lungs and literally gasping for air. One of my friends said after the race that I was making more noise than the train and I don’t doubt it. I was completely destroying myself on the climb, on my absolute limit. In the back on my mind I knew I needed to get to the top in a decent position so I could at least try to claw back some time on the descent. It was here, exactly 12 months ago, that I’d made my move and climbed my way into 5th position by the summit, before propelling myself to a 3rd place finish. What a difference a year can make. Instead I was hanging on for dear life and trying not to lose too much time to my rivals – the very definition of damage limitation.

I’d describe the feeling of reaching the summit as sheer relief, although I think that’s probably an understatement. But there was no time to catch my breath as I was immediately forced into switching to descent mode and head straight back down the mountain. The first few hundred metres felt more like Slowdon than Snowdon. I was playing a real life game of risk as I tried to dodge and weave through the masses of people that swarmed the path before me. The inclement weather had done nothing to reduce the number of pedestrians and along with the hundreds of runners still ascending the mountain, there was little room to comfortably descend at any kind of pace. It wasn’t the other athletes who were the problem as they are always respectful towards the leading runners and fully aware of the lines we must take. However, the general public are just a walking nightmare and year after year the problem only worsens. I was jumping over dog leads, handing off children, swerving pensioners and desperately trying not to cause major injury to both myself or others. Unfortunately, apart from taping off sections of the course I don’t know what else the organisers can do to alleviate the problem as it’s not possible to close the tourist path to the public.

13692545_10154242213894088_1413546081744850188_nPictured above: One of the less congested sections of the descent (courtesy of Pete Nicholson’s Go Pro)

Further down the mountain the crowds lessened and the path opened up. I was able to get back into my stride and descend at a free flowing pace. As I approached the bridge before Clogwyn Station I caught my first glimpse of Rob Hope in 6th place. I was making good time and beginning to close the gap. I took the grassy trod to the right which avoided the mass of runners climbing the path and began to increase the pace. To be fair to Rob he was descending well and when we reached the halfway cafe the ball was firmly back in his court. I’d run out of steep and technical terrain and we were now onto the runnable section of the descent. He was back in control and I just had to keep working hard in the vain hope that he might fade towards the finish.

13659188_10210025874146363_3755834139120171514_nPictured above: Desperately trying to reel in Rob Hope on the descent.

“I ALWAYS TRY AND EMBRACE DEFEAT AS IT MAKES ME APPRECIATE WINNING SO MUCH MORE”

I remember struggling at this point last year. My feet were on fire and I’d ripped both my heels badly – the last 2 miles were pure agony. Although I wasn’t running as well today I was thankful that my feet were still OK. I was tired but I wasn’t dreading the final section on the road like I was back then. I worked as hard as I could to close the gap but Rob was running well and gave nothing away. If anything the end of the race for me was a bit of an anti-climax. I knew as I approached the final 800m that I couldn’t improve on 7th place. I’d missed out on a top 5 finish and I was only the fourth GB runner home, so I’d also missed out on a place in the Snowdon GB team that will travel to Morbegno in October to contest the Trofeo Vanoni relay. Needless to say I was disappointed with my performance. I’ve trained hard and raced hard all year with Snowdon in mind and when it came down to it I simply wasn’t good enough on the day. But sometimes that’s how it goes in sport – it’s swings and roundabouts. You can’t win every race, you can’t always run a PB and you can’t always be at your best. There have been times this season when I’ve turned up to races with little expectation, like the inter-counties fell championship and had the run of my life, and others like today, when I’ve ran well below par despite being one of the favourites to win. That’s why I always try and embrace defeat as it makes me appreciate winning so much more. Plus it wasn’t all doom and gloom, I was still part of a winning team and I have to keep reminding myself that I’ve still finished 7th in an international race. I really need to stop being so hard on myself!

IMG_4807Pictured above: The flying Englishman! A proud moment as Chris Smith takes a well deserved win for his country.

The day undoubtably belonged to my good friend Chris Smith. He had blown the rest of the field away to win in a very convincing time of 65:47 – one of the fastest times in recent years. He was obviously delighted with his win (as I’m sure you can tell from the photo above) and told me afterwards that it was the first ‘big’ win of his career. I found it hard to believe that an athlete of Chris’ calibre hasn’t won more races at this level. I’ve had the pleasure of racing in the same international teams as him over the last couple of years and the guy is seriously class, a real talent and a worthy champion. It always sounds like a cliché when people say ‘it couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy’, but I genuinely mean it. I was so happy for him and if there was anyone that I would have liked to have won the race (apart from me obviously) then it really would have been him. Finally he can enjoy the ‘big’ win he so rightly deserves.

IMG_4797Pictured above: All smiles as England win the international team prize (L to R: Me, Rob Hope, Chris Smith & Chris Farrell) photo courtesy of Mark Croasdale

I was also really chuffed for Chris Farrell who finished in a fantastic second place, narrowly beating the master descender, Luca Cagnati, in a nail biting sprint finish. Chris has been threatening a top international result for the last couple of years and I just hope that now he can now go one better and make the Great Britain team at the world trial. He’s a great lad, he works hard in training and he’s earned it. I can also assure you that he was very pleased with the result despite what the picture above suggests – that is his ‘happy face’ 😉 It’s also worth pointing out that although I was the last man home for England, I do have the best tan (and yes it is real before you ask Judy Howells). Obviously just another good reason to live and train in Yorkshire.

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Pictured above: England women also win the international team prize (L to R: Heidi Dent, Lou Roberts & Julie Briscoe) photo courtesy of Mark Croasdale

In the women’s race Ireland continued their Snowdon domination of recent years as Sarah Mulligan won for the second time in her career. She was chased hard by my ‘2016 runner of the year’ Heidi Dent, who has had an amazing season so far. Of course I have to mention the amazing talent that is Lou Roberts, who finished in 4th place behind Scotland’s Stephanie Provan. Lou’s in the form of her life and having been on the fell running scene for many years it’s inspiring to see her at the very top of our sport at 44 years old. Finally a big well done to Julie Briscoe, who finished 8th on her international mountain running debut. She has also represented England on the road and x-country proving she is quite the all round athlete!

As ever, the race was celebrated in style with the English, Irish and Italian teams bonding over a few beers and Braulio. It was a great night and I look forward to catching up with everyone at the next international fixture. Apologies to Luca, Nicola, Marco, Paolo and Botta for my poor Yorkshire/Italian! I promise I shall practise!

Pictured above: (L) ‘Old but Gold’ Me and Chris Smith (R) Post race celebrations with the Italian team.

Finally a HUGE thanks must go to my friend and race organiser, Stephen Edwards, and his team. This international race is unique in the sense that it looks and feels like a huge commercial and professional event, yet it’s organised by members of the local community and volunteers. If you’ve never done this race before then it needs to be top of your list for 2017! I’ll certainly be back next year to have another go. Who knows, maybe one day I might just be good enough to take the top spot. For now I can only dream.

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*Please contact me if I’ve used any photos without permission and I’ll obviously give you credit.

 

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Race the train!

‘I FIND THAT THE HARDER I WORK, THE MORE LUCK I SEEM TO HAVE’ Thomas Jefferson

Running has provided me with a tremendous amount of opportunities over the last few years. I’ve been fortunate enough to represent my club, county and country at what I do best, I’ve competed in some brilliant races at home and abroad and I’m supported by three fantastic sponsors who have all helped me to achieve some amazing things. I consider myself to be a very lucky and privileged person. That said, I also know that I’ve worked extremely hard for all of my success thus far. I set myself challenging targets and do everything I can to achieve my goals. To quote the great Thomas Jefferson – ‘I find that the harder I work, the more luck I seem to have’.
 A few weeks ago I received a phone call from one of the producers of BBC TV’s programme Countryfile. He asked me if I might consider being involved in an episode that would be filmed in Snowdonia. Immediately he had my full attention. This particular part of North Wales is extremely special to me. I love the Welsh people and I love the beautiful, natural environment with its majestic mountains and stunning coastline. I have many fond memories of spending summer holidays here during my childhood but most of all, I’ve always had a natural affinity and obsession with the country’s greatest natural landmark – Mount Snowdon. I’ve climbed Snowdon many times and last year I even finished 3rd in the prestigious Snowdon International mountain race. Since then I’ve made it my personal goal to one day return and try to add my name to the history books with a memorable victory of my own.
Snowdon Twilight.jpg
Pictured above: A glorious sunset over the town of Llanberis, taken after the Snowdon Twilight Race 2015
So what exactly did they want me to do?
The proposal was particularly exciting. The idea being that I would take part in a race to the summit against one of the nation’s best loved presenters –John Craven‘Brilliant!’ I said. ‘I can definitely beat him’ (I hoped!)…I mean he must be at least 70! I might not even need a warm up!. Then came the real challenge – John would hitch a ride on the Snowdon Mountain Railway and I would run to the summit. It seemed I might just need that warm up after all.
Snowdon-1
Pictured above: The summit of Snowdon (courtesy of the Snowdon Mountain Railway)

JOHN CRAVEN IS QUITE POSSIBLY THE NICEST AND HUMBLEST MAN I’VE EVER MET IN MY LIFE’

As I made my journey to Llanberis I started to feel a little anxious, especially at the thought of working with a TV legend like John Craven. But there was no need for me to feel nervous in the slightest. As soon as we met, any fears I had were immediately put to rest. I can confirm with the utmost confidence that John Craven is quite possibly the nicest and humblest man I’ve ever met in my life. In fact,  5 minutes later I’d completely forgotten just how famous he was and I thoroughly enjoyed every second of his company – what an absolute legend.
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Pictured above: The pre-race picture – Red vs Blue!
The morning of filming finally arrived and I woke up full of excitement. The sun was shining and the conditions were perfect – the mountains around Llanberis looked breathtaking. John was in such a good mood after watching Sunderland AFC avoid relegation the night before that I thought he might even have the energy to run up Snowdon with me! Although when he realised just how warm it was I think he was very relieved to have a ticket for the train.

‘HE (KENNY STUART) IS ONE OF MY HEROES AND ARGUABLY THE GREATEST FELL RUNNER OF ALL TIME’

I was given an Osmo camera to film my journey whilst John took the train and conducted three interviews en route to the summit with Stephen Edwards (Snowdon Race director), Ken Jones (Snowdon Race founder) and Kenny Stuart (Snowdon Race record holder and fell running legend).

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Pictured above: John interviewing myself and Kenny on the summit of Snowdon.
I must confess to being very relieved when I heard Kenny was taking the train to the top of the mountain – I was more scared of racing him than the train! At 59 years of age he is still in fantastic shape and looks every inch the athlete. One of the highlights of the day for me was getting to meet and chat with him. He is one of my heroes and arguably the greatest fell runner of all time. During his incredibly successful career he set a number of truly outstanding records, many of which will never be broken. He was also British champion in 1984 and 1985 and among the records he set in those years were 1:02:18 at Skiddaw, 1:25:34 at Ben Nevis, and 1:02:29 at Snowdon. A truly inspirational man and I was grateful for all of the advice he gave me.
IMG_4135
 Pictured above: With fell running legend Kenny Stuart – one of my heroes!
Unfortunately I must remain tight-lipped as to the result of the race but I can confirm it was a very close finish and should certainly make for good viewing.
In addition to this Top Gear style contest the episode will also help raise the profile of mountain running in the UK, showcase Snowdonia in it’s glorious splendour and highlight the effect the race has on tourism in the area. Remarkably it adds a colossal £250,000 to the area’s economy during race weekend. It’s amazing what the power of one mountain can do.
The programme is scheduled to air on BBC 1 on Sunday, 29th May 2016 at 7.00pm.
The 41st Snowdon International Race will take place on Saturday 16th July 2016 at 2.00pm and the highlights will be shown on S4C (time and date TBC).
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Pictured above: The final ascent to the summit (courtesy of the Snowdon Mountain Railway)

 

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Dare to Dream

Dare To Dream

There’s no doubt about it, the pressure was on.

I think I first began to feel the weight of expectation on Thursday when a flurry of Facebook notifications began to appear on my laptop. My sponsors, Inov-8, had posted a competition to win a pair of X-Talons for the person who could correctly guess the winners of the first English Fell Running Championship race at Black Combe on Saturday.

Screen Shot 2016-03-14 at 14.25.02Pictured above: The advert for the Facebook competition.

I couldn’t resist looking at the list of entries…‘Tom Addison and Victoria Wilkinson’ seemed the most popular combination and certainly the most sensible choices. Both proven championship race winners and worthy pre-race favourites. I was also flattered to see my name mentioned as a potential winner but I tried to ignore it.

Still, the notifications kept coming, many from friends and family and I wondered if people were voting with their hearts rather than their heads. It was a romantic notion that someone who’s never won a championship race before might actually start as the pre-race favourite and even more so if they could actually do the business. It would certainly make for a good story.

‘THE TIME FOR CHEAP TALK WAS OVER. I SIMPLY HAD TO DELIVER THE GOODS – NO EXCUSES’

Then came the game changer. For a time I stopped looking at the Facebook post but curiosity got the better of me and I was in for a surprise. Dave Woodhead AKA ‘Mr Yorkshire’ had thrown in his prediction…Ben Mounsey and Victoria Wilkinson. GULP! I froze. I immediately stopped what I was doing and began to try and soak up the hot coffee that I’d just spilt on my best work trousers. All I could think of was ‘Oh S**T! I might actually have to win this race now’.

Dave’s always been someone for whom I’ve had great respect and admiration. As one half of the Yorkshire fell running management he is the man to impress if I want to earn a vest at the inter-counties this year. So as far as I was concerned when he tipped me as the race winner, then the time for cheap talk was over. I simply had to deliver the goods – no excuses.

‘I WANTED TO WIN ON ATHLETIC ABILITY AND MERIT. PROVE THAT I WAS THE STRONGEST ON THE DAY’

It’s easy for people to predict a championship race winner based on current form but in reality it’s not as simple as that. There are far too many other external factors other than form to consider – the weather, conditions, terrain, competitors, navigation and just how you feel on the day. You also need a huge amount of luck on your side. In short everything has to go your way, it’s certainly not a case of just turning up and winning – but I guess that’s what makes these races so unpredictable and exciting.

So when race day finally arrived I’m not afraid to admit that I was nervous. Don’t get me wrong – I was confident in my ability. I’ve certainly put in the necessary miles and climbing that’s required, but I was VERY worried about the thick fog that was covering the entire route. I can navigate, but not at pace, and certainly not as well some of the other top orienteers who were lined up alongside me at the start. Unlike the conditions it was perfectly clear that navigation and route choice would play a major part in deciding the fortunes of all 499 runners competing.

image_fullPictured above: The start of the Black Combe Fell Race 2016 (Photo credit to Pete Tayler BCR)

10401186_10153447762543671_7244002237652467099_nPictured above: The start of Black Combe Race 2016 from behind (Photo credit to Rupert Bonington)

Tactics – should I hold back and play it safe? Stick with someone good at orienteering? Probably the best and most sensible idea. But me being me wanted to win on athletic ability and merit. I wanted to go toe-to-toe with the fell running heavyweights and show that I was the strongest on the day. So I went out hard and I attacked the first climb. I was there to prove a point and I wanted to make my intentions clear from the start. I chose my line to the summit and stuck to it. I felt good. In fact, I ran pretty much the whole of the ascent and emerged as the leader at the top.

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IMG_3903Pictured above: The first steep climb to the summit of Sea Ness (Photo credit to Alex Hinchcliffe)

The climb from Sea Ness to Black Combe is very ‘runnable’ by fell racing standards. I sensed my moment to attack and picked up the pace. This was my kind of gradient – living in the South Pennines I’m no stranger to the runnable climbs. I wanted to see who might respond so I could get an early measure of the competition. I didn’t have to wait long – up stepped Sam Tosh. After a few minutes he cruised past and took the lead. I was happy to sit in and follow his charge but it wasn’t long before I was breathing hard. Had this been a boxing match I’d have been well and truly on the ropes and soaking up a few punishing body blows. Except it wasn’t. This was ‘The Battle of Black Combe’ and not ‘The Rumble in the Jungle’ and unlike Ali, I didn’t have any ropes to lean against to help me deal with the pain. Needless to say I was looking forward to reaching the top of the climb.

As we approached the summit I took a moment to glance over my shoulder and was shocked to see we’d both opened up a sizeable lead over the rest of the field – there was no one else in sight. We quickly passed the crowd of supporters at Black Combe and descended back into the mist and headed towards the next checkpoint. We had a quick chat about the line we were taking as I felt we were dropping too far to the right. I was worried about losing too much height and ultimately getting lost (good job I’d done a recce!). We corrected our line but when we emerged back on the main path we’d lost the lead.

Black Combe to White Combe                                       

Pictured above: The line I took from Black Combe to White Combe in red – GPS data (mistakes highlighted by arrows).

Although we rejoined the race in 4th and 5th I wasn’t too disappointed. My prayers to the God of Nav had been answered and Lady Luck was smiling down upon me. Rhys Findlay-Robinson and Kris Jones (both Dark Peak) had now assumed control of the race. My tactics immediately changed. I wasn’t taking any chances on this tricky section and as Kris actually had his map and compass in hand I was confident that their navigation skills were good enough to trust. Sam made a different choice and he ran with Steve Hebblethwaite of Keswick, who was in 3rd place. I sat in between Rhys and Kris and just assumed that we’d dropped the pair of them. However, after analysing the splits (post-race) it turns out that they had somehow taken the lead and were the first runners to dib at White Combe! So when we arrived it was a big surprise to learn that we were only the second group through to checkpoint 3. The map above suggests that they most likely passed us where we lost the main path a couple of times (black arrows).

‘WE KNEW THEN, AT THAT EXACT MOMENT, THAT THIS RACE WAS OURS TO LOSE

Now if anyone reading this is familiar with the tactics of road cycling then you’ll understand how a breakaway works. I was now in one, and we all knew exactly what was at stake. Rhys took the perfect line to the next checkpoint (Fodder Rack) and although we didn’t know it at the time, this proved to be the pivotal moment in the race. Somehow Sam and Steve had taken a bad line and gave us back the lead. We took full advantage of their mistake and sprinted towards the final ‘killer’ climb. We knew then, at that exact moment, that this race was ours to lose. Despite running for different clubs and competing against each other, we rallied as a team, urging ourselves on to push hard for a top 3 finish. This was our chance and we weren’t about to blow it.

In my own mind I knew that this was where I needed to make my move. I was unaware of what was going on behind me in the race, yet well aware that if I didn’t work hard enough on the final climb then I might get caught by the likes of Rob Jebb. I was also worried about Rhys – he is after all one of the best climbers in the country so I couldn’t risk letting him pass me on the ascent. So I just went for it. I grafted like my life depended on it and as I looked back I could see the gap widening with every effort. I reminded myself that this is the reason why I’ve climbed over 100,000ft so far this year. This was the moment I’d been training for and I was determined to win this race on my athletic ability.

‘I WAS RELYING ON MY PLAN ‘B’ – PLAN BUCHAN’

I thought I could hear a noise in the distance but it was nothing more than a faint whisper in the wind. Perhaps I was imagining things? To be fair my mind was working overtime and I was struggling to keep my cool. I knew that the only thing that would stop me from winning now was getting lost – which believe me was still a very likely scenario! I wasn’t imagining things…I heard it again but this time much louder. Someone, somewhere in the distance was ringing a bell so I continued to head towards it.

I’ve never been so excited and relieved to see Mike Fanning in my life. As a teacher, the noise of someone ringing a school bell usually fills me with dread but today it was music to my ears. I’d made it! Just the descent to worry about now…

I was relying on my Plan ‘B’ – ‘Plan Buchan’. My good friend Helen (Buchan) was waiting nervously for me at the summit and pointed me in the right direction, the rest was up to me. I was running the ‘safe’ option which was certainly not the fastest way down to the finish (see picture below). I didn’t really care about how quickly I got down, I only cared about being the first to the bottom. There was no way at this stage of the race was I about to risk getting lost!

Descent                                         

Pictured above: The final descent from Black Combe. The quicker ‘racing’ line (black arrow) and my ‘safe’ line (red arrows)

The feeling of relief when I hit the main path was palpable. I just hoped that I’d put enough time into Rhys on the climb because I knew for sure that he’d be taking the racing line. I wasn’t wrong. Less than a minute later he appeared from nowhere, out of the mist. That was my cue to run as hard and fast as I could. I was not losing this now. I didn’t look back. It was the most nerve-wracking descent that I’ve ever experienced in my life. I fell a couple of times near the finish and at one point I nearly took the path back up to the summit of Sea Ness. I can only think the pressure and realisation of winning my first English Championship race had turned my brain to complete mush.

‘I’VE BEEN WAITING 12 YEARS TO WIN A RACE IN THIS COMPETITION’

As I entered the final field I can’t describe the feeling of winning at the end – it was unreal. It was everything I dreamt it would be. Those that witnessed my reaction to the victory knew exactly what it meant to me.

981198_1149904525053631_1419435140041429200_oPictured above: Tired, cold and wet…but VERY VERY happy at the finish (Photo credit to Pete Tayler BCR)

I’ve been waiting 12 years to win a race in this competition and there have been times when I thought I’d never see the day. I was reminded in this moment of all the hours I’ve trained, all the times when I’ve punished myself during tough hill sessions and all the sacrifices I’ve had to make to get myself in peak physical condition. It also made me appreciate just how good the top fell runners are. Here I am writing about my elation of winning ONE championship race when the likes of Rob Hope, Rob Jebb, Ian Holmes and Simon Bailey have won countless races between them. It’s the very reason they are the legends of the sport.

image_full-1.jpgPictured above: Record breaker Victoria Wilkinson storming towards the finish (Photo credit to Pete Tayler BCR)

I shared a moment at the end with Victoria Wilkinson, who only seconds earlier had won the women’s race. She knew what this result meant to me and I was just as happy for her too. In fact, she actually deserves even higher praise as not only did she win but she smashed the record in extremely poor conditions – what an athlete! She’d run the entire route on her own and perfectly navigated her way through the mist without the help of anyone which is an unbelievable achievement in itself. Special mention also needs to go to my good friend Kirsty Hall who finished 20th in the women’s race and 4th Vet 40. 12 months ago, following a serious injury, she couldn’t even walk without crutches so it’s fantastic to see her back competing with the best in the country.

Pictured above: The official race route (L), my GPS map from Strava and the GPS data of all Black Combe runners on Strava (R)

When I’d finally managed to calm myself down I switched my attention to the team results and waited patiently for a sea of red and white vests to arrive. I waited a few minutes…..then I waited some more. Daz Kay was the next man home but after 10 minutes I given up hope on the rest of them. I hadn’t realised just how utterly ‘Smithied’ some people were! In fact, many were so lost that Steve Smithies had somehow managed to navigate his way round and beat them to the finish. It was a comedy of errors and the map (above right) highlights some of the most remarkable and funniest lines that runners had taken. It’s probably a great opportunity for some people to read this fantastic blog written by one of my friends about tips for navigation in races. I’ll certainly be taking note for future reference.

I was pretty chuffed that I’d not been one of those navigational casualties for a change. The recce I’d done a few weeks earlier had definitely helped but ultimately I had Rhys and Kris to thank for getting me across the most challenging section of the course. It was obvious that I’d ridden my luck at times during the race but I also knew I’d earned this win on my climbing ability. Despite many of the big names getting lost in the mist I’d like to think that I’d still have been the victor on a clear day. If you don’t believe me then check out the race splits below and you’ll see where this race was won and lost.

Results / Splits / Strava

‘FINALLY – THE BIG QUESTION…DO I THINK I CAN WIN THE ENGLISH CHAMPIONSHIP?’

There’s still a long way to go – it’s only the start of the season. Despite getting terribly lost my money is on The Great White Hope (Rob Hope) or Simon Bailey. Tom Addison is my other favourite too as he finished 5th and that result puts him in a great position with 5 races still to go. All three men have the pedigree and the quality to go the distance. Expect Sam Tosh to win a race this season too. He’s in outstanding form and was very unlucky not to claim a top 3 finish at Black Combe and potentially even the win. Like Tom, he’s a fell running legend in the making.

Finally – The big question…do I think I can win the English Championship?

Honestly? I think it’s unlikely. Before this race I’d not even planned on completing the whole series. Black Combe was always on my radar but I’ve other major goals this season that will still take priority. The Snowdon International is my big aim for the year, as are the European and World Mountain Running Championships. However, after today I might just decide to change my plans to include another 3 counters. It would be a real shame after this result to just throw in the towel and not give it a go.

Whatever happens – expect fireworks. This is the most exciting and open fell running season for years. A chance for the young guns of fell running to try and shoot down the old masters. Could this be a changing of the guard? Only time will tell. Predicting a winner is going to be difficult. However, one thing is for certain, if I do decide to compete for the title then rest assured I’ll give it 110% and I won’t rest on my laurels. I’ll make the necessary sacrifices and I’ll live by my code…..

‘TRAIN HARD, RACE HARDER & DARE TO DREAM

This fell running performance was brought to you in association with hard work, an obsession and sheer determination. Special thanks to Strava, Trooper LaneInov-8Mountain Fuel and Back To Fitness Physiotherapy for all their help and support in making it happen.