The Fellsman, for the uninitiated, is a 60 mile fell race (that can be hiked if you’d rather walk it) over a huge slug of the Yorkshire Dales. It starts in Ingleton and finishes in Threshfield and, along the way, visits the tops of Ingleborough, Whernside, Gragareth and Great Coum, goes half way back up Whernside again, over Blea Moor, then Great Knoutberry, Dodd Fell, Fleet Moss and Middle Tongue, Buckden Pike and finally Great Whernside. Thats getting of for 12,000 feet of ascent all in with half of the total ascent coming in the first 13 miles!
Oh and it sure goes over some rough ground in the process.
And so last Saturday morning Hester kindly dropped me off at Ingleton for what will be my sixth bash at the Fellsman. And yep Ingleton village hall was full of many familiar faces running it yet again too. Almost any (sane) person, on finishing an ultra distance event like this one, vows through gritted teeth ‘never a-f**king-gain’ but that thought soon wears off after a few days and by the time next year’s event comes round, kind of masochistically admittedly, you can’t wait to do it all again. Being such a brilliantly organised event over such a cracking route helps of course.
For sure every one of my Fellsmans has been a unique challenge of its own, whether because of the weather, the ground conditions or just my differing levels of fitness and stubbornness on the day. This year the weather was cold, very cold at times, with an icy wind on the tops which thankfully dropped during the evening, but only to be replaced by a beautifully sparkly but bone piercingly hard frost after dark.
Hardest of all though to me this year were the ground conditions – the whole route was especially sopping wet and boggy making for some tough going all the way. This year’s winner took 11:31 hours to finish with the corresponding winning time last year being 10:23 hours – now I know such a comparison is not especially scientific (especially with Adam Perry last year’s winner not running this year) but if a race is potentially 10% harder at the front it must have been at least 10% harder for the rest of us further down the field 🙂
Anyway thats enough excuses. I started off steady away and, having gone up Ingleborough and down to Chapel-le-Dale, up Whernside and down to Yorda’s Cave in Kingsdale and then slogged up Gragareth, all in pretty good shape, I suddenly felt really ropey and nauseous at the 13 mile point. It was extremely cold and boggy up on this ridge line too which, after the Gragareth trig point, I had to follow along for about 3 or 4 miles to the top of Great Coum, and I felt crap for most of it. Not helped one bit by my watch strap breaking (in a stumble) with me then fiddling about with it fruitlessly for about ten minutes trying to mend it with very cold hands.
I had had a (fabulous) flap jack to eat down at the Yorda’s Cave checkpoint and also forced myself to eat a couple of mini mars bars on the way to Great Coum and, eventually, by the time I reached the Great Coum check point (which with clearing skies now had an absolutely stunning view over Dentdale) the food was kicking in and I was starting to feel a bit better. And I was more-or-less fully restored by a follow up sausage roll and a cup of tea once I got down to the Dent checkpoint shortly after. Three wheels on my waggon and I’m still rolling along…
After Dent I took it relatively steady and had a really enjoyable chat for a while with another competitor Andrew, doing the Fellsman for the first time. He bashed on though once we were going over Blea Moor but, by now, I was starting to feel much much better and ran quite strongly from the Blea Moor trig point down to the next checkpoint at Stonehouse. Pasta and cake were the order of the day there and then I was off again on the steady slog all the way up the next hill Great Knoutberry.
By now some 27 or 28 miles into the race I’d found my natural position I think and I doubt I lost more than a couple of places in the race order from here on all the way to the end, and gained a fair few as I overtook runners or they dropped out. The field though now, made up of 312 runners at the start, was very strung out and it was rare, other than at checkpoints, to see much more than one or two runners in your line of sight at any given time. Often I felt totally on my own in the massively open landscape all around. It was brilliant 🙂
After Great Knoutberry I was still running really well and ran all the way down to the next checkpoint at Redshaw on the Hawes to Ribblehead road. Onwards and upwards from there, over Snaizeholme and Dodd Fell where, now at 5 ish in the evening, it was getting bitingly cold. Then it was the Fleet Moss checkpoint for a lovely bean stew followed by rice pudding and fruit cocktail and a not too difficult (this time) trog over Fleet Moss and Middle Tongue to Cray. On the way I hooked up with two other runners, Andy and Richard, and by the time we jogged down to Cray it was after dark and we were then formed into a group of 4 with the addition of Neil.
Cray is about 44 miles in and, with full darkness now, our group of 4 had 16 miles and two hills, Buckden Pike and Great Whernside, to rattle off. Surprisingly I felt really quite strong now and my team mates seemed in the mood too, so we soon set about Buckden Pike and then were able to run much of the way off there all the way to the checkpoint at Top Mere. We then yomped to Park Rash, ‘zipped’ (yeah right) up Great Whernside and again were able to find some running legs on the way to Capplestone Gate, although I managed to go up to my waist in a deep bog along the way and had some serious suction to cope with getting out!
After that we yomped again on the last few miles to the final checkpoint at Yarnbury; this stretch always seems to take fricking ages, and it did again this time, but we eventually reached Yarnbury, where we were allowed to de-group which, in turn, allowed me to run the last couple of miles all the way to the finish in Threshfield on tarmac. I even managed to run up the hill from Grassington Bridge at the end, gor blimey.
And waiting for me at Upper Wharfedale school was the beautiful Hester armed with a bottle of beer. Ah, there’s lovely 🙂
The scores on the doors…
So the results are now out and can be found here. 400 entered of which 88 dropped out before the day, leaving 312 at the start line in Ingleton. 95 of the starters (30%) dropped out at various checkpoints along the way leaving 217 finishers. I finished 59th = with a time of 17:51. Not my best time ever and maybe I would’ve done a bit better still without my nausea attack – that said in the conditions I was well happy with that and, more so, that I was still running relatively well at the finish 🙂