British Fell Relays aka the Battle for North Leeds

Derwent Dam- a fabulous backdrop for some fell running

The “dambusters” dam at Fairholmes in the Peak District was the spectacular backdrop for this year’s national fell running relay championships, hosted by Dark Peak FR club. Last year’s event in Grasmere was a real highlight in the calendar, and this year the organisers had the unenviable task of bussing hundreds of runners from Bamford to the start due to limited car parking in what is a sensitive ecological area, and the closure of the M1 motorway on the day didn’t make things any easier for them. However they did a sterling job with the organisation, many thanks to all those involved, and the mountain of e-mails each team captain received in the build up to the event left no stone unturned.

First up for our Valley Striders team was new recruit and “track specialist” Dan Grant, making his fell running debut. All legs this year (bar leg 3) were pretty much fully flagged which is very unusual for this event, however did ensure no navigation issues especially if you are relatively inexperienced on this terrain. Slightly unfair to label Dan as an 800m specialist given he has done a 2.35 marathon too, but as Daz and I waited in the changover area we witnessed an unbelievable sprint finish to overtake at least three runners as he rounded the corner. He has got some kick the lad. Unfortunately Dan hadn’t remembered what I had told him at the start about “dibbing in” before he high fived us, so cue a confused look whilst we screamed at him to turn around and dib in before he tagged us. Those three he had passed and probably another four ended up getting in before him, so joint 68th place in the leg wasn’t a fair reflection on what was a cracking effort. I believe Dan’s comment on returning was “that was great…. what the f*** was that descent?!”. Ah yes that descent. To be fair it is one of the steepest finishes I have seen so close to the end, with a few dry stone wall gaps to negotiate at full speed and a vertical double muddy chute between the trees with spectators lined either side catching the action. It was definitely one for mudclaws and not speedcross…

In the long pairs leg Daz and I set off at breakneck speed straight up the hill (parallel to said descent) and overtook a number of teams quickly. At this point I was concerned, aka blowing out of my arse, whilst Daz sauntered up the hill. I did however recall Daz coughing and spluttering as he arrived at registration earlier in the day to meet us and I remember being secretly pleased about that, knowing a leveller like that would help me to hang on to his coat tails. As it turned out about thirty minutes in and his cold kicked in with Daz struggling and me pushing the pace for the rest of the way. In fact I felt so good I turned into one of those annoying runners that isn’t tired, embracing the scenery and surroundings, saying to Daz on the last climb “look at that view, amazing, I think that’s Mam Tor isn’t it?”. I think there was a brief “cough yeah cough great splutter” response. We got down in 1hr 20m in 60th place and handed over to Steve and Dave, upon which Daz laid on the floor for about 20 minutes attempting to recover his lungs. Hindsight would suggest it wasn’t the best idea running a race like that with an illness, but we appreciated Daz taking one for the team by not letting us down and giving his all to get through it. I am hoping he has recovered by now although I could do with checking up on him…

We had two specialist navigators on leg 3, Steve “Mr Airienteer” Webb and Dave “the Gazelle” Middlemass. It was a shame the conditions were so sunny as I would have banked on those two tearing their way through the field in bad weather due to their nav skills. Unfortunately Steve aggravated a hamstring and had to nurse his way around the route, which with the nature of some of the descents was I can imagine no pleasurable experience, so a top effort to get around in 90th place. A good effort from Dave even making it to the start line, driving from Borrowdale only to be in lockdown on the M1, parking 5 miles away and running to the start just in time, doing the leg then running back (a cool 20 miles in total) and then a nice three hour drive back to the lakes. Total commitment Dave, and I wouldn’t expect anything less!

As for the Battle for North Leeds, this is of course referring to our pre-race in-house banter of beating other local rivals such as Otley, but particularly North Leeds Fell Runners. Despite being a few minutes down on both teams at the start of the  final leg, our reigning club fell champion Jon “krupicka” Pownall absolutely smashed it, finishing in a brilliant 26th position. Rumour has it Wharfedale are attempting a big money transfer for Jon, but I am rejecting their calls…

So Valley Striders finished in 58th overall out of 244 teams, and a good 5 and 7 minutes ahead of the aforementioned north Leeds clubs. Bragging rights retained for another year then.

Two thirds of team Valley Striders!

No idea where the event is being held in 2020, but as one of the highlights of the fell running year it is an event not to be missed and I will be attempting to drum up interest in Valley Strider open mens, M50 and women’s teams next year. Do let me know if you are interested!

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