Grasmere in the Lake District was the picturesque venue for this years British fell relay championships, with Ambleside AC hosting the event. This is one in which our club Valley Striders AC has had some attendance at in the past but not with regularity. This is in part due to often long distances required to travel (it could be held anywhere in the country) but I suspect mainly because we always struggle to get a team together. So this certainly proved, with an initial crack squad of 12 runners eventually dwindling to 4 just a week before, so cue some last minute desperation facebook posts to drum up some more interest.
Race day came and we finally had our team of 6, plus our resident running legend Steve travelling with us too and ready in the wings for any last minute withdrawal. 15 minutes before the start of the first leg and Steve was all stripped and chomping at the bit ready to go, given Daz still hadn’t arrived. 10 minutes to go and a sweating Daz arrived in the race tent after what I imagine can have only been a Usain Bolt-esque sprint from his car a mile down the road. Cries of “Stand down Steve, stand down” echoed around the tent…
Fair play to Daz, undertaking his first proper fell race, on rough and technical unfamiliar terrain, he started way back in the field and (as he customarily does in other road/cross country races) sauntered his way through the pack to finish in a really impressive 51st place on his leg. I think the terrain and steepness were a bit of an eye-opener but he smashed it and hopefully we have converted him to future fell running and races!
Talking of racing snakes, Jon was my partner for the second leg- a pairs non-navigational effort known as the “Queens Stage”. Jon effortlessly sailed up the long drag of a climb up to Great Rigg whilst I did my best to hang on to his coat tails. On to the summit of Fairfield and what should have been spectacular views were unfortunately for us obscured by thick clag (as was the case way down in the valley too). Not that I would have had time to admire the views on the climb anyway the pace Jon was setting! Off the summit and down Cofa Pike the roles were reversed, and I was able to show Jon how to deal with rough technical Lake District terrain descending at pace. A brilliant route across and down to Grisedale Hause, again with ordinarily brilliant views of Grisedale Tarn on your right completely shrouded in mist. Apparently it was beautiful weather in Leeds though…
Jon and I decided to take a semi “scenic” route on the final section of the race down Tongue Gill- pairs of runners strewn all over the place would suggest we weren’t the only ones though. Our pace was sub 6 minute mileing though so we knew we were flying down, that is until I decided to show Jon how to deck it on an obscure little grassy section. As my left foot slipped from under me and took out my right, no sooner had I hit the deck then Jon had lifted my right arm and picked me up seemingly without breaking speed at all! A really enjoyable run in led us to the finish and the handover to leg 3, shortly after which i entered the first aid tent, scenes of a fell running equivalent to the battle of the somme with injured runners everywhere. Something about team events like this seem to push you on further than you might in another race when ordinarily you might “sandbag” it a little, and might explain the higher proportion of scrapes and bruises. It was pretty slippy, wet and tricky conditions though to be fair.
OMM Elite veterans Simon and Mick took leg 3, a pairs navigational effort not made in any way easy by the afore mentioned clag. These two absolutely smashed their leg, with their map and compass skills put to the test and passing with flying colours, indeed beating some of the fell heavyweight teams like Keswick and Wharfedale in the process.
The final “glory” leg was the domain of Dave “the Gazelle” Middlemass, who sauntered around the shortest leg of the day, sporting as he did his gentlemans watch (I was very concerned it might not survive the leg if he had a fall like I did- but suffice to say it and he returned in one piece). It was joy to watch Dave descending into the finish, with his huge relaxed stride length overtaking runners for fun.
After the race we were treated to a free ticket for some street food, and if you managed to avoid the queues (tip- do leg 1 or 2) you were rewarded with quite possibly the nicest van tucker ever tasted- also known as a bhaji buttie. After the race we had time for a couple of pints in Grasmere then back on the bus for the journey home, one which should have taken close to 2 hours took closer to 5 due to a number of traffic accidents and road diversions. We did however manage to keep ourselves entertained on the back row by pointing out (possibly more than once, and mainly to ourselves) that we were the quickest team on the bus…
Thanks to Dom at NLFR for sorting the coach out, to Ambleside AC for hosting a cracking event and to my fellow Valley Striders for putting in fantastic performances which ensured we finished a really commendable 40th place out of 245 teams.
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