Well we’re into race week for my second race of the 2016 season, the iconic Fellsman race in North Yorkshire. For those that haven’t heard of this race before, it’s a UK classic and involves 62 odd miles and over 11,000ft of ascent across the hills and fells of North Yorkshire. The race began as a walking challenge nearly 55 years ago and over the intervening years has attracted more and more runners, to the point that it’s now a favourite for both ultra runners and long distance walkers alike.
What sets this event apart is that it’s a point to point race across rough ground, requiring the competitor to not only navigate across upland terrain but also make route choices in attempt to avoid the deep bogs that the event is famous for. Much of the race is run across private lands as well, which gives all who take part a chance to experience a part of the country they wouldn’t normally get to see.
Like all ultra running events, there is a strong sense of community. The Fellsman is organised by the local scout association, with many of the checkpoints along the route ran by local scout groups from around the area.
In all there are 24 checkpoints you have to visit and have your tally clipped in order as you make your way around the course. Successful completion is returning to the finish at Threshfield with your tally complete, within the 31 hour cut off.
Build-upMy preparation has been ok but not substantial. Following my last race at the end of January I took a few easy weeks to recover before building the volume back up. I’ve managed a couple of peaks weeks, plus some hillier running down in Devon, before dropping into my usual taper.
For this race I decided to try something a little different, as an experiment ahead of my A race in the summer, the Lakeland 100. On my final peak week I included a long run of around 40km. This is unusual for me as personally I’ve always found training runs of longer than 3 hours too tiring, requiring additional rest and impacting negatively on subsequent training weeks. I wanted to see if this was still the case with my increased level of running fitness, to allow me to plan my next block of training into the summer and also access the possible impact of the Ultimate Trails 110 race a month before Lakeland 100.
The results were as expected and I’ve been pretty tired in the last few weeks. As I entered my taper phase I took the opportunity of a trip to Devon to also include some hillier runs, which probably wasn’t the most sensible approach and has led me to be approach this race feeling a little over cooked and heavy in the legs.
Oh well what is life if it isn’t one big experiment? Better to find out now than on the Lakeland Fells come July!
KitThe mandatory kit list for The Fellsman is one of the most extensive I’ve experienced in ultra running, although for the time of year and the kind of terrain we’ll be crossing also extremely sensible.
The minimum kit we are expected to carry during the race includes:
- Wear or carry 5 long sleeve upper layers, including one fully waterproof and a down or similar insulated jacket
Wear or carry 2 items that provide full leg coverage, including one pair of waterproof trousers
Hat and gloves/mitts, with spares recommended
First aid kit with assorted bits and bobs
Full map coverage of the course and a traditional compass
Cup and spork
300 grams of emergency rations, to be uneaten at the end of the race
Head torch plus spare battery
Water and food as required for personal use
All spare clothes to be carried in dry bags to protect them
Quite an extensive list. Fortunately this proved an excellent race to test out my Ultimate Direction PB Adventure Vest 3.0, which at 16 litres should have ample space, or so I hoped!
Once packed the vest was crammed to the brim, meaning that if the weather was set to be worse and additional layers were required, I’d have to go for a bigger bag ….. gulp! I’ll be throwing my OMM pack in the car just in case.
I’ll be running in my Inov-8 Roclite 295’s. I was tempted by the Salomon Speedcross but these aren’t a perfect fit for my feet with a narrow toe box and while fine for 2-3 hours running around The Fens I think I’ll suffer with a day of running across hard ground in these.
There is also every likelihood that at one or more occasions on Saturday I will be ankle/shin/knee/waist deep in a bog and quite frankly I’m not confident the Speedcross will stay on my feet and return to the surface, as they can also be a little loose on my heel as I have to size up to get room for my fore foot in the shoe.
So hopefully the Roclites will provide the combination of grip and comfort I’m after for this race. I’ve run over 100km in them, so they are well broken in and my feet showed no ill effects during my 4 hour long run in them recently. This is the first ultra I’ve run without my beloved Brooks Cascadias for over a year now and while a small risk I don’t think the Cascadias will be up to the terrain, so I am comfortable with my choice.
The checkpoints are really well stocked food wise, so I will be able to make the most of those and not worry about carrying a pile of food for the day. Another thing I’ve been experimenting with is the use of Tailwind and Mountain Fuel UK as liquid fuel during training in recent weeks.
After my issues at the end of the Cumbria Way Ultra last year, I’ve been looking for ways to get additional calories into me and a return to liquid nutrition seemed like the best possible option.
There has been a lot of positive press and about both Tailwind and Mountain Fuel in the last few years and the lack of gastric issues with runners that use it. Both are pleasant to use, with Mountain Fuel the stronger/sweeter flavour of the two.
I used a combination of the two on my last long run and felt stronger once drinking Mountain Fuel. I am concerned however about the sweetness of their product though, so will actually carry a combination of the two. I will start with mountain fuel early in the race before switching to Tailwind for the later stages. Tailwind include caffeine in some of their products and it’s these that I will be carrying to hopefully give me a kick on the homeward stretch.
I will also be carrying Nuun tablets as normal and will use those as required. Hopefully this approach while a little haphazard, will also give me maximum flexibility out on the course.
Solid fuel wise, I will make use of the checkpoints in the main but also carry a handful of my usual Nakd and Chia Charge bite bars in case I need anything solid. A pack of shotbloks will also be buried somewhere in my bag just in case.
NavigationAnother dilemma is the choice of map. I love the Ordnance Survey 1:25 Explorer Series of maps and the detail it provides for micro navigation in poor visibility. However this requires two maps to be carried to cover the full course, while the dedicated Harvey’s Fellsman map at 1:40 scale does it all with just one map. With a crammed bag I’m tempted to drop back to the 1:40 but suspect this will be a choice I’ll make on the actual morning of the race.
I will be route planning all this week on the 1:25’s, studying the route and previous competitors lines, before transposing this onto the 1:40 maps on Friday evening.
This is one part of the race I am really looking forward to, an opportunity to dust off my mountain leader skills from years ago and combine these with my love of ultra running. Maps and the ability to navigate across rough ground in poor visibility has always fascinated me and was something I used to be quite good at. Hopefully they aren’t famous last words!
Another unique feature of this race is the use of groups during the night. This is a safety feature and means that at a certain time on the Saturday evening you will be held at checkpoints and released in groups of 4 or more. You then required to stay in this group until the final checkpoint or the first checkpoint you reach after dawn. Failure to stay in your group will result in disqualification and times are adjusted for how long you have to wait for your group to form.
I fully expect to be grouped at some point during the race, with only the top runners making it around solo. I have no idea where I will be when the grouping takes place but I am determined to get as far as I can before this happens. This is not to be anti social, as in both the Norfolk 100 and Cumbria Way Ultra’s last year I ran the majority of the race in informal groups. This is more a personal challenge of how well I do against the course.
That said as in previous races, if the opportunity arises to hook up with other runners while out on the course I will definitely take it. My experience with my mental demons during the recent Peddars Way Ultra shows that having people around is an effective way to combat these. As previously mentioned, route and line choice is key, so if you can hook up with someone who has done the race before and/or knows the ground this can be an enormous benefit and save loads of time. Plus if the weather is poor then sharing the navigation can help relieve the stress on all parties in the group, which would be great.
At this stage of my previous races I would have some time objectives figured out and a pacing card all set to go. Due to the nature of the course this is impossible to achieve as quite frankly I have no idea how long it will take me to get around.
While I’ve run this distance and longer over hillier terrain before, this has mostly been on defined paths and trails. The rough ground and navigation involved in The Fellsman will be key, as will route choice and the ability to read the ground.
So I have therefore come up with the following objectives, the first two the same as always:
- Have fun!
Try and get as far as I can before being grouped
Finish before dawn Sunday
Finish by 2am Sunday
Finish before midnight Saturday
Pretty high level I know and with an 08:30 start on Saturday morning the majority should be achievable, with my hardest objective giving me only 15.5 hours to get around the course. That one could be a real stretch but is a fun target to aim for at least.
Bring it on!
So with four days to go it’s a mixture of excitement and apprehension that I’m feel. Excitement as this is a race I’ve wanted to attempt for a number of years and the chance to pit myself against this iconic course will be great fun.
Apprehension as the unknown nature of the course and terrain means I am limited by the planning I can do and will have to roll with the punches as they come. There is also some concern about the amount of fatigue I feel I may be carrying into the race but again I won’t know how this goes until Saturday morning and that first climb up Ingleborough.
So wish me luck, Saturday will be a true test of my fitness and navigation alike and a real adventure that’s for sure!
Due to the poor level of mobile coverage across the course I’m not sure whether I will bother using a tracker of not. Keep your eye on my social media accounts across the weekend for updates on this and of course check back here next week for my blow by blow account of how the race went.
Right I’m off to repack my pack for the tenth time ……