As usual I’ll start my race report with a quick summary of the race and then get into the detail.
For anyone not familiar with The Fellsman, it is a 61 mile point to point self navigation race across the fells of The Yorkshire Dales taking in the peaks of Ingleborough, Whernside (two of the famous Yorkshire Three Peaks), Gragareth, Great Coum, Great Knoutberry, Buckden Pike and finally Great Whernside. In all there is over 11,000ft of ascent and between these points you are mostly navigating yourself across rough ground littered with bogs just waiting to swallow you to the waist. All making for a tough days racing.
Looking back it was one of the toughest but most enjoyable races I have ever taken part in. If you like running a long way with map and compass in hand, over rough, remote and hilly ground then this is definitely the race for you. Don’t forget as well that this is a real UK classic, with the 2016 edition being the 54th running of The Fellsman.
So before we get into my blow by blow account of the race, here are the key points:
- I finished just before 4am Sunday in a time of 19:24, managing to tick 4 of my 6 pre-race objectives in the process
- I was adopted by Andy, Matt, Jim, Jen and Fiona from the start, which was a great group to be part of, with the prior route knowledge within group contributing enormously to the success of the day and really reducing the navigation stress.
- Of my 19 plus hours out on the course, I was climbing for 9 hours and descending for, 8 hours, with just 2:25 on the flat.
- In all our group covered 99 kilometres (61.8 miles) with 3,700m (11,100ft) of ascent. This a self navigation race from point to point, so total distance varies from participant to participant
- As usual I took around 30km to really get into my stride and felt physically strong after that for the remainder of the race
- No mental demons to worry about this time around, although there was plenty of kit faff and angst in the run up to the race
- The fatigue I was worried about carrying into the race didn’t seem to hold me back
- I tried adding some liquid nutrition to my normal approach, with Mountain Fuel working well for me and Tailwind less so
- While this was only my first Fellsman, I’m sure I will be back for more and am already thinking about how I could improve my time in future attempts
Right, now for the detail.
My Build-up to The Fellsman
As I outlined in my previous post, my build-up to The Fellsman was ok but not exactly stellar. I had concerns about carrying too much fatigue into the race, intentional on my part to a certain extent. The usual niggles in the final throws of my taper took hold, with a sore left achilles a slight worry but an explosion of cramp in my right calf as I got out of bed on Friday morning was the real icing on the cake, giving me a dead calf into the race itself.
Choice of kit was another concern. The forecast all week was for a wet Friday to be followed by a cold Saturday, with the risk of showers (snow) during the day and then getting increasingly colder overnight on the Saturday. A lot has been written from previous years about people getting cold during this event and while the race organisers include an extensive mandatory kit list a lot of people advise you should take more.
I was keen to not overpack, a fault I typically have, but likewise didn’t want to scrimp on kit and risk having to withdraw as a result. You’d really kick yourself if you’re climbing into the broom wagon home just because you didn’t bother to carry an extra base layer!
In the end of I went back to my mountaineering days for guidance. Having spent many a night wandering around the Cairngorm Plateau in the middle of winter or the European Alps in summer, I have a pretty good idea of what I need to remain comfortable in low temperatures and inhospitable weather. I tend to run quite hot, so layering is the answer, and knowing that in cold weather it’s sweat that will really suck the heat out of you, I knew I had to have breathable layers that would trap heat but let moisture out.
In the end I decided to go with a combination of merino wool base layers, a windproof layer, buffs and a beanie for my main defence against the cold for my upper body, with my waterproof and primaloft jacket in reserve if required or in an emergency. Cold hands are also a real issue, so I opted to carry my primaloft mitts with me. These are excellent, pack down to nothing and really saved my race in the 2015 Peddars Way Ultra.
These layers and all my mandatory kit just crammed into my Ultimate Direction PB Adventure 3.0 vest. Normally I hate having an over stuffed vest, first because I am afraid of breaking it and secondly getting stuff out is a real faff. However I didn’t want to size up unnecessarily, so after a last minute wobble on Thursday night I decided to stick with my UD vest but take my OMM Classic 25 in the car just in case.
As the weather reports indicated colder weather I did swap out one of my merino layers for a heavier weight one on the Thursday evening and a mountain of additional kit was thrown into a holdall to come north with me, giving me options should my mind change before race day.
Nutrition wise I was planning something a little different. There were going to be well catered checkpoints along the course, so while I was carrying some of my usual Nakd and Chia Charge bars, I was also going to use some liquid nutrition, something I hadn’t done for a number of years.
Following some testing in training I had a number of sachets of Mountain Fuel and Tailwind. Mountain Fuel was the sweeter and seemed to have a more positive effect on me. Tailwind was a lighter taste and also included some caffeine in them. I’d therefore decided to start with Mountain Fuel and then switch to Tailwind later in the race, when I expected to be sick of sweet food and would also welcome the caffeine as the race dragged into the night.
I was going to be carrying two 500ml soft flasks as planned to carry my usual Nuun in one of them and either Mountain Fuel or Tailwind in the other. It was therefore a very similar to the approach I’d normally take on ultras, with a combination of real food and Nuun but I hoped the additional calories from Mountain Fuel and Tailwind would help me avoid the blood pressure issues I had at the end of the Cumbria Way Ultra last year.
I’ll be honest that I was really nervous about this race. The reputation of The Fellsman is that’s it’s a gruelling adventure across rough upland terrain. While not the furthest I’ve run distance wise, I was in no doubt that the terrain underfoot would make it a long and slow process. Hearing rumours that a 17.5 hour finish was equivalent to a 24 hour Bob Graham Round did little for my confidence and I was even becoming concerned that my primary aim of getting around before dawn on the Sunday would be a push.
The navigation element was also a concern. As a qualified UK Winter and International Mountain Leader I knew I had the technical ability to get around the course but the added mental strain, especially in poor weather, would increase the toughness of the task ahead.
With this in mind I had opted to take two 1:25 ordnance survey maps to cover the route. While I could have used a single Harveys 1:40 map, I find the 1:25 maps much easier to use, having used them throughout my mountaineering career and as such decided to stick with what I knew.
After the usual stop start drive through Friday rush hour traffic, I arrived at the school at Threshfield around 19:30, got parked and headed to race registration and kit check. Looking around everybody appeared to have much larger packs than mine and the doubts about my kit choices started in my headed once again.
While in the queue I bumped into Andy who’d I’d run the Cumbria Way with last year. He’d made a late decision to do this race, along with his brother Matt, and we chatted briefly about our plans for the race and agreed to catchup at the start the following morning. Andy’s pack looked bigger than mine. Bugger!
I eventually was called forward for kit check, which went smoothly and I was soon back at the car grabbing my kit to setup my bed for the night.
As The Fellsman finish and race control is run from Upper Wharfedale School, they have full use of the facilities and make the sports hall and associated changing and toilet facilities available to those entrants that wish to stay the night. It was simply a question of finding a space on the floor and setting your sleeping mat up. It was still early and I easily found a gap along the wall, set my bed for the next two nights up and got my kit squared away ready for the morning.
It’s worth saying at this point what good value The Fellsman is. With the cost of races seemingly going through the roof, it’s refreshing to be able to book a race entry plus overnight accommodation, three meals (evening before, breakfast before and another meal afterwards) plus bus transport to the start for just £50!
The weather had been pretty appalling on the way up, with constant rain turning to snow as I came across the Fells towards Threshfield. The forecast was still set to be fine(ish) but cold tomorrow which was good but I was glad to be spending the night inside in the dry. Camping would have been a damp affair.
I was still in two minds about what to do about my race pack. Having talked to a few people now who’d previously run the race, they’d all commented on how cold it got, especially once the night came and you were doing a lot of walking. I decided to stick to my original judgment and faith that my previous experience of operating in cold wilderness environments would guide me on what I would need. I had enough kit to cope with an emergency situation and should I get too cold I could always pull out, not ideal but it was an option.
By now it was 10pm, so I grabbed a quick shower and was in my sleeping bag by 10:20pm. Face mask on and ear plugs in. Time to get some sleep. Next stop race day!
My alarm went off just before 5am and I immediately started to get my usual pre-race breakfast of rice pudding down. Sleep hadn’t been too difficult to come by, the mask and ear plugs doing their job pretty well. An annoying fan had fired up in the hall around 11pm but this had actually acted as background noise, drowning out the late comers and also the obligatory snorers, so had actually been a benefit in the end.
I quickly grabbed another shower to try and wake myself up, threw in my contact lens and headed around the to the hall to get my second breakfast. Porridge and bacon rolls were on offer and I opted for the former with a strong cup of coffee to wash it down. I was soon back at my bed, sorting out my kit and waiting for my bus departure time to arrive.
I made one final change of kit opting to wear a short sleeve merino base layer under a lightweight long sleeve one. My plan was to start the race in this, coupled with X-Bionic running tights, wind proof jacket, buff and wind proof gloves. I was confident these should keep me warm enough as I long as I kept moving and left a thicker base layer, waterproof and insulated jacket in reserve for the Saturday night as temperatures dropped.
The call finally came for the 06:30 bus, so leaving my sleeping mat and bag on the floor to await my return, I hauled my kit bag to the bag drop and joined the queue for the bus.
Before we knew it we were on the road and the sense of relief that I could no longer worry about kit was immense. What I had with me was what I’d have to race with!
The journey was pretty uneventful and the weather was stunning, crisp and cold but with lovely blue skies. As we approached Ingleton the cloud cover increased slightly but not too badly and the forecast still predicted it would clear out later on.
One of the benefits of doing kit check the night before is that you could quickly be processed at the start and get your tally and race number. So in short order I was through the line and there it was, finally in my hands, the legendary Fellsman Tally!
I would wear this around my neck for the next 15 hours or so as a badge of honour and probably also a lead weight at times. At each checkpoint we would be required to present this to be clipped and only upon returning to the finish at Threshfield with a completed tally could you claim you were a Fellsman.
I opted to wear mine around my neck but under my wind proof jacket. Over the years I’ve had to cut many a map case or compass from someone’s neck, which the wind had wound up to the point of choking them. Having it under my jacket I hoped would mean it was accessible but also well out of harms way.
As I stood queuing for the first of what was to be many pre-race loo stops, Matt and Andy appeared and we chatted some more, promising to find each other before the start. I’d also been put in touch with another group of runners by a friend of mine. We’d been chatting on Facebook for the last few days but my phone chose this point to struggle to get any sort of connection to the phone network – thanks O2! I paced around the car park trying as hard as I could to make or receive a call and eventually had to give up and head inside as the race start approached.
Before we knew it we were called outside onto the sports field. Our tallies received their first clip and the pre-race brief began. Andy and Matt introduced me to the rest of their group, who kindly invited me to join them, which I happily accepted. It was great to have a chance to run with Andy and Matt again, and to catch-up on things since Cumbria Way Ultra.
Everybody else in the group also seemed really nice and all were lighthearted as we waited for the off. As a bonus Jim, Matt and Jenny had run the race a number of times between them before. Local knowledge is key, especially on this course, so it was great to have that experience within the group and my my confidence lifted as a result.
At last 08:30 arrived and, wishing us good luck, the race committee chair sent us on our way. Our Fellsman journey had begun!
The Hilly Section – Ingleton to Dent
We all turned and broke into an easy jog across the sports field before dropping to a walk up and out onto the streets of Ingleton. Soon we left the tarmac for a walled track and started our steady climb up onto the slopes of Ingleborough and our first peak and checkpoint of the day.
The sun had gone in by now and the skies grew greyer as we ran and chatted. The higher we got the more exposed we became to the chilling northerly wind. The upper slopes had a light dusting of snow but it was pretty easy going underfoot and as the gradient increased the field stretched out giving us room to move at our own pace.
Before I knew it the gradient eased away and the summit carn was before us. We queued briefly to get our tallies clipped, the first of many such queues that day and we then pushed on along the summit plateau.
The wind was biting and even stopping for a few moments chilled you to the bone and made your fingers numb. I pulled my gloves on and my buff up over my head and gently ran to catch up the back of the group.
Before us the next two climbs of Whernside and Gragareth could be seen in the North and West. But before we could get into those we had to descend to our first road side checkpoint of the day near The Old Hill Inn.
After a short distance along the plateau we reached the path down into the valley and headed down. It was steep and rocky in places, with some ice but again easy to move over with some caution. Once the initial steep rocky descent had been crossed we hit a flagstoned path across the fields towards the road and The Old Hill Inn.
The squelching under the large flagstones showed how wet the ground was and gave an early indication of the soaking that was to come. We eventually hit a track of sorts and ran along the valley, arriving at the second checkpoint in 1:37, probably my slowest 10km ever!Another clip into our tally, water bottles topped up, biscuits grabbed and we were on our way again. The rest of the group were keen to move on and as the guest member I didn’t want to hold them up and was happy to keep moving forward, it was going to be a long day!
We crossed the valley using a tarmac lane but were soon back off road and heading straight up our second climb of the day, Whernside. The ground was saturated underfoot and by the time we hit the ridge line my feet were soaked and also really cold. This was to be a repeating pattern of the next twelve hours or so, with the coldness extending to complete numbness in the colder bogs along the ridges. This concerned me a little as I knew the temperatures were set to fall dramatically overnight. If my feet were numb now, how would they feel at 2am in sub zero temperatures!?
The sun was trying to burn through the cloud but it was still grey as we hit the ridge line and once again stepped from the shelter of the fellside into the face of a biting northerly wind.We were now into our first out and back section of the race and as we made our way up towards the summit of Whernside and the next checkpoint, runners streamed back past us along the ridge towards the next descent. We were all envious of them but soon we too had clipped our tally and were flying back down, giving encouragement to those coming up.
There was more snow cover on the tops but once again this was passable and even runnable in places. My eyes were glued to the ground in front of me, analysing every step for fear of plunging into a freezing bog. I’d heard many horror stories of runners following in the footsteps of those in front only to plunge in where those before had floated over the top and I was desperate not to experience the same fate. My feet were now totally numb from the cold water and I was determined to not extend this sensation to my entire legs with an unplanned dunking.
My contact lens were playing up a little as well, not wanting to sit straight on my eyes and blurring my vision slightly, especially when running the descents. This just added to the Russian Roulette feel along these sections and I took it cautiously as a result.
We eventually arrived at the wall crossing and plunged down the rough fellside through deep grass and bogs towards the next roadside checkpoint in the valley below. There were runners everywhere as we all searched for our favoured lines and as a group we followed Jim, who was very familiar with the terrain having run the race a number of times before.
We stretched out as a group on the descents and I was happy to settle into my own pace, trying to pick the best line and also easing my body into the run. As is the norm, I wasn’t feeling amazing at this stage of the race but experience has shown me that I don’t normally get into my grove until the 30-40km mark anyway, so I wasn’t overly worried about this.We crossed Kingsdale Beck in the valley bottom and climbed back up to the checkpoint, arriving in 3:08 having covered 19km.
Another swift turnaround and we were off. I held back slightly, keen to get my water bottles reloaded with more Mountain Fuel and also grab some of the famous Fellsman flapjack from the checkpoint. As I left the rest of the group were a hundred metres ahead followed by myself and then Matt, who had also taken additional time at the checkpoint, bringing up the rear.
Our next target was the summit of Gragareth and we were immediately climbing straight up more saturated fellside out of the checkpoint. Matt commented that this was his least favourite climb, so I knew it was going to be tough and we could see the ground pitching up steeply before us.
As with all the climbs it was a question of putting your head down and getting on with it, trying to keep moving at a decent pace while not blowing your legs out for the climbs and descents to come. While steep they weren’t too long and once you got into a rhythm it was surprising how quickly you could make progress.
By now the sun was burning through and as we crested the ridge the cloud was clearing and we were rewarded with stunning views of the Lake District off to the north west. Another short out and back to get our tallies clipped at the summit checkpoint and we were running northwards along the ridge towards Great Coum and the long descent down to the next roadside checkpoint in Dent.
The views were amazing and although the field had really stretched out now, we could see runners spread along the ridge ahead for the 3-4 mile run to Great Coum. The ground was extremely boggy along this stretch and runners switched from one side of the wall or fence line to the other searching for the best line.
As a group we again stretched out, generally running in pairs and I chatted with Fiona for a while. We slowed back to a walk as we reached the summit slopes of first Green Hill and then Great Coum but before we knew it we were clipping our tallies under beautiful blue skies with the valley of Dentdale beneath us in the sun.
The wind was still biting as we again plunged down open fellside towards the village of Dent. My contact lens were again playing up and my focus was entirely on my feet, trying to avoid the soaking which I feared was inevitable. Once again Jim led us on a great line and we chose our own pace down towards the track which would ultimately lead to the village.
At the track we regrouped and ran together down into Dent. It was punishing under foot, going from soft wet fell to hard loose rock but as I commented to Andy this was ideal training for the Lakeland 100 later in the summer, which would largely be on rocky ground such as this.
As we hit the tarmac lane at the start of the village, Jim picked out the shortcut path across to the checkpoint and under beautiful warm sunshine we were soon running into the field and the Dent checkpoint, with 5:05 on the clock and just over 30km under our feet.
The Sunny Section – Dent to Middle Tongue
Its was lunchtime and we weren’t even a third of the way into the course yet. This was going to take a while and my flippant pre-race objectives of finishing before midnight or even 2am seemed impossible. Could we even make it around by dawn?
Jim was positive about the progress we were making, saying we were well up on the pace he expected for a 20 hour finish, which was good news and put a pre-dawn finish right in back our sights. The fact was that although we’d only travelled 30km we had also ticked off nearly half of the 11,000ft of ascent the course included, so progress should be marginally quicker moving forward.
We took the opportunity to make the most of the offerings at Dent, enjoying the tea, sausage rolls and sandwiches on offer. We all dropped some layers, topped up water bottles and were soon hitting the road out of the village and back towards Whernside.
I was feeling pretty good and my legs were coming to me as I’d hoped. My tight right calf and niggling achilles wasn’t causing any problems and the warm sunshine was really helping to lift everybody’s spirits.
I’d had an slight headache in my left sinus for the last few hours, which while not debilitating was annoying. As we walked up the road drinking our tea and eating the rest of the food we’d grabbed I decided to stop and pop a couple of paracetamol to try to shift it.
The road undulated up Dentdale and we ran the flats and downhills, briskly walking the uphills. So far I hadn’t had to check my maps once, able to visualise the general direction and aspect of the route ahead from my route planning earlier in the week, with Jim providing the detailed navigation onto the best lines, based upon his previous experience of the race. This proved the be the case throughout the day, which took a lot of the stress out of the race and is something I am indebted to Jim and the others for providing.
The advice is always to try and hook up with others who know the route if you can and with Jim, Matt and Jen we definitely had a wealth of knowledge in the group from their previous attempts. Fiona had also run a number of stretches of the route in preparation for the race, meaning to a large extent that Andy and I could focus on our running, which was great. It was however gratifying to see that my map memory was still working well and I could pick out key landmarks from my time studying maps, something I was worried would be a little rusty as it had been so long since I had done any serious map and compass work.
We were heading towards Blea Moor for our next checkpoint but before we got there we had to climb half way back up Whernside, our second peak from that morning. As we rounded the corner Blea Moor came into view and we once more headed out across rough ground for the summit in the distance. In poor weather this can be one of the trickier areas of navigation but with todays clear skies it was easy to navigate and the views were amazing.
Once again the ground was rough and incredibly boggy, so much of the time you were staring at our feet. I took the opportunity to grab a few photos and eventually we hit the summit of Blea Moor and our next checkpoint.
At a number of the checkpoints the marshalls had been scanning our tallies as well as clipping these. At Blea Moor this was proving problematic though and a queue was forming as they struggled to get each tally to scan. By the time we were all through we were cold from the chill wind, so quickly threw our jackets on and turned north for the descent back into Dentdale and the Stone House checkpoint.
As we descended through the woods of Mossy Bottom the ground became extremely muddy but we managed to make good progress and soon hit the road for the final mile into the checkpoint. It was now nearing 5pm and as we approached we discussed our aim to try and get across Fleet Moss before dark. Jim was confident that we should be able to make it at the pace we were going but we all agreed to take the opportunity to get some decent food in at Stone House before the next section.We eventually arrived at the checkpoint in 7:30 with 43km in the bag. We were through the marathon distance and approaching the half way point, which is always a good point to be psychologically with the finish becoming closer than the start.
The staff at Stone House were dressed as super heroes, which no one batted an eyelid at as we enjoyed the wide range of food on offer. I went a little crazy having pasta, tea, a few pieces of ginger cake and a jam butty for the road.
All too soon it was time to push on, sunset waits for no-one after all! With water bottles topped up we began the walk up under the iconic Arten Gill Viaduct and climb to Great Knoutberry Hill and we were off.
It was a good rough track for the climb under the viaduct and up to Arten Gill Moss for our next out and back to Great Knoutberry. I worried that I’d eaten too much but the climb gave sufficient time to allow my stomach to do its thing, so by the time we turned and started running away from the summit of Great Knoutberry I felt fine.
Another tally clipped and on we pushed towards the next road side checkpoint at Redshaw. This section proved to be extremely runnable and we were soon at the checkpoint, clipped and ready to go. I quickly dived into the tent to see what they had on offer, was excited to find they had bananas on the menu and Fiona and I left brandishing a banana each like we’d struck nutrition gold.
The sun was now dipping towards the horizon behind us and it was now a race to see how far we could get before dark. The air was turning noticeably cooler and we had all added layers in an attempt to keep warm.
It was more boggy ground to the next checkpoint at Snaizeholme before the traverse around Grove Head at the top of Widdale and the ascent of Dodd Fell. We could see snow showers sweeping up Widdale during this traverse, which was a visual indicator that there was still weather around, although we were fortunate to miss them this time around.
During this section we joined the Pennine Way for a short while. Having followed The Spine Race in January it was strange to think of the competitors battling their way along here in conditions more wintery than we were experiencing.
All being well, I too will be passing that same point on my final leg into Hawes next year in the Spine Challenger. I can only hope I feel half as good then as I did a that point in The Fellsman. The food had settled well in my stomach, my legs had found their rhythm and I was feeling pretty strong at this point. As we climbed towards the summit of Dodd Fell I repeatedly took the chance to stop and grab more photos of the sunset before running to catch-up with the rest of the group.
It was around this point that Andy was starting to have issues with his asthma. While usually easy to manage, a recent change in medication seemed to have loosened its grip and Andy was getting tightness in his chest on the climbs. We encouraged him on as he was still keeping a good pace. He talked about possibly stopping but we reassured him he wasn’t holding us up and on we pushed.
We were making good progress and had a great chance of not just making it to Fleet Moss but potentially all the way across to the checkpoint at Middle Tongue all being well. We clipped at Dodd Fell and pushed on across more rough ground and on towards the Hawes road and the checkpoint.
Some improvisation was required to cross a field boundary but this was soon overcome and before we knew it we were running up the road to the checkpoint, arriving in 10:41 with 60km ticked off.
As always we received a warm and friendly welcome at the checkpoint, with plenty of warm food on offer. I knew from the pre-race menus that there was rice pudding on offer here, a favourite of any ultra marathon drop bag of mine and I went to hunt for this. I opted to have mine cold with jam to speed consumption, with a sweet cup of (chewy) tea to chase. I grabbed a cheese bap and was back outside ready to go with full flasks in double time.
It was at this point I decided to switch from Mountain Fuel to Tailwind for the rest of the race. Mountain Fuel had done me proud so far but I was keen to make use of the caffeine on offer in Tailwind later in the race. Plus as it has a slightly less sweet taste I hoped it would prove more palatable through the night.
It was now 18:50 and due to the good weather the official grouping time had been delayed by half an hour, so we were ahead of the cut off and free to leave. As we were already in a group anyway this would have had little impact on us but it was still nice to know we’d make it to the Cray checkpoint before it was officially enforced.
We gathered the others and headed back down the road for the push across Fleet Moss to Middle Tongue. From reading previous race reports, I knew this section was another key area navigation wise with your chosen line crucial to your speed across the boggy ground. Once again with the weather clear it made planning our route much easier and with Jim’s previous knowledge we were soon threading our way across, following fence lines and skipping around bogs where we could.
The sunset was now in full swing and to say it was stunning would be an understatement! I repeatedly stopped to take photos and ran to catch-up with the group, desperate to capture the scene as much as possible for posterity (and this race report of course!).
Andy’s asthma was still playing up but he was able to run on the flats and downhills which was encouraging. As the sun finally dipped beneath the horizon and the light started to fade we left the fence line and beat out across the fellside and bogs onto Middle Tongue.
The checkpoint had mounted a flashing beacon near the checkpoint, so as we drew close we were able to use that to guide us in, arriving just before 9pm and as darkness finally fell. It had been a tough 8km but we had made it!
The Dark Section – Middle Tongue to Threshfield (Finish)
Tallies were clipped and head torches were put on and we were soon off again, with Hells Gap and Cray fully in our sights!
With the sun now gone the temperature was falling fast and we ran as much as we could to get the blood flowing and keep our bodies warm. My mind turned to the course ahead and started to mull over what I should do clothing wise at Cray, the next roadside check point. Matt’s comments about wearing every layer he’d had and still being cold last time around rang in my ears.
I still had my warmer base layer and insulated jacket to put on. Between here and the finish we still had the peaks of Buckden Pike and Great Whernside to climb, so it wasn’t going to be a walk in the park. As before I knew that overheating and sweat was a real danger, so I decided to leave my insulated jacket in my bag as an emergency layer. If I felt cold while going over Buckden Pike I then had the option of putting it on or adding it at Park Rash before the next climb.
The next checkpoint was the only unmanned self clip checkpoint on the course. The organisers had again put flashing markers out to guide us in and as we weaved our way through the bogs and over field boundaries, Jim’s route knowledge again proved invaluable and the beacons soon came into view.
It took us a while to cross the final sections of bog but eventually we were running up the track to the clip. Everyone was cold with numb hands and so I took the role of marshall, clipping everybody’s tally before being assisted to do my own. There was a point I feared I would be there all night as other runners arrived but I managed to get free and after a quick comfort break ran on after the others down the road towards the Cray checkpoint.
We arrived at Cray just before 10pm with 73km covered and 13:36 on the clock. Just two peaks, 26km and an awful lot of bogs to go but it did feel like we were heading towards the finishing straight!
There was a huge plate of cheese on offer in the checkpoint, so I munched on this as I added my extra base layer under my windproof and waterproof jackets and pulled on my waterproof trousers. I also took the opportunity to add my beanie under my head torch and my primaloft mitts, which would keep my hands nice and toasty in the chill wind.
We were quickly grouped by the marshals, with Andy taking our formal grouping sheet to present at the remaining checkpoints. I added some ginger cake to my cheese fest, grabbed a cup of tea and was ready to leave.
We walked, ate and drank for a short while but were soon feeling the cold so broke into a run through the fields away from Cray. Jim again was leading from the front picking the lines as we dutifully followed on. Andy was still struggling with his asthma, and Jen had a tight achilles but with only two significant climbs left to go everybody knew we were nearing the end and encouraged each other on.
I was now involuntarily yawning, so knew time was pushing on. I was also getting an occasional spasm in my hamstrings but nothing major that I worried about. Overall my legs felt pretty good and I was still able to keep up a good pace and stride out or run as required.
My bladder however was another matter and I seemed to have to stop for a comfort break every 15-30 minutes. I wasn’t consuming more fluid than before and eventually put this down to the Tailwind, as this was the only thing I’d changed. This got to the point that I eventually stopped drinking it altogether with 10km to go as I was sick and tired of constantly stopping for the loo.
We soon got the warmth back on the climb, weaving our way through bogs and streams before eventually picking up the path to Bucken Pike, where the checkpoint duly appeared. The ground was now getting quite crisp, with the air temperature below freezing, but I was comfortable in the layers I had on and not as cold as I’d feared. My feet were still wet but not the frozen lumps of ice I had feared they would become earlier in the day.
We clipped and pushed on southwards towards Top Mere and then turned eastwards towards Park Rash and the final major roadside checkpoint on the course. It was a fairly runnable stretch along a track into Park Rash, arriving at the 80km mark just after midnight with 16:05 on the clock.
We had a quick turn around at Park Rash, with some food quickly grabbed and bottles recharged. I think I had some hot chocolate as well …. I think!
We followed a fairly good path for a change towards the summit of Great Whernside, steep at first and then easing back to gently rise to the summit checkpoint. It was extremely cold up here and after being clipped we pushed on towards the neighbouring high point before picking up the fence line south.
The ground was still boggy and the crisp coating from the hard frost was not weight bearing so a soaking was still a possibility. Fatigue was setting in and we were all finding it hard going but still moving well. Another group was in close proximity and we would catch them on the slower sections, eventually passing them if memory serves.
With Great Whernside ticked off the route now took a general downward trajectory towards the finish. We all knew this was going to be a long section but it was still mind numbing and many of us had reached that mental point where we wanted to be finished. We joked that this always seemed to come 10km from the end of any ultra and how nice it would be to do one for once where it happened at the finish line!
Down and down we went, through or around bogs and over stiles until eventually we arrived at the Capplestone Gate checkpoint. Shortly after this the beacons appeared again directing us towards the final checkpoint. They stretched off into the distance and Yarnbury appeared to be getting no closer until suddenly it appeared!
We were clipped and officially de-grouped for the final 3 mile road run downhill into Grassington and onwards to Threshfield and the finish. Matt set off at a strong pace, keen to get back and get everyones kit from the car. I took the opportunity to grab a final piece of flapjack from the checkpoint, which I hadn’t seen for a while, and munched this as the rest of us walked down the road.
Once the flapjack was gone I was starting to get cold and was desperate to finish, so broke into a run and the others followed as we made our way towards the finish, with Matt’s headtorch disappearing away into the distance.
Slowly I pulled away from the others so I eased back and walked to allow them to catch-up. We ran again and but once more I pulled clear and in the end decided to keep going as was in an easy rhythm.
Through the streets of Grassington I ran and out onto the main road I’d driven along on Friday evening. Down this, over the bridge and the finish was just at the top of a small hill.
As I pushed on I checked back to see the others had joined the road behind me. As I rounded a corner I saw another group in front and quickly ran past them congratulating them on their finish. Over the bridge, up the hill and I was still running! Half way up I got a grip and slowed to a brisk walk but once again started running as I neared the top.
Into the school grounds I ran and past where we’d boarded the bus yesterday morning, a lifetime ago. I was waved towards the main door and there was the finish!
After two failed attempts to open the doors (was it push or pull!?) I was in and my race was over at just before 4am. 62 miles and over 11,000ft of ascent done in a time of 19:24.
My tally was quickly cut from my neck and off I went to find a chair for my first proper sit down since the bus ride that morning. Later I would regret not getting a photo of myself with my completed tally but I wasn’t really thinking straight at that point and was just overjoyed to have completed the course before dawn, one of my pre-race targets ticked!
I slowly removed my shoes, a struggle with the laces frozen solid, and shrugged off my pack and jackets. Matt arrived shortly thereafter with the kit from the car, we congratulated one another and waited for the others to arrive, which they soon did and it was congratulations all round.
The exhaustion now hit me and after a quick cup of tea, which made me feel a little nauseous, we said our goodbyes and I headed off to retrieve my kit and grab a quick shower and some well earned sleep.
I managed 2.5 hours sleep before waking with sore legs, a sleeping mat and a sports hall floor are not the best option after 62 hard miles. I lay there for a while but was keen to get going, so got up and headed off to use my meal ticket for breakfast.
And that’s it really. My drive home was long and slow, with numerous coffee stops and even a couple of naps on the way. Following its success after my last race, I took an ice bath once home to assist my legs recovery. I probably overcooked it this time and practically gave myself hypothermia, a schoolboy error after a cold day out in The Yorkshire Dales.
It did the trick though and my legs bounced back pretty quickly and I was pain free and able to run upstairs after only a few days. With the Lakeland 100 looming ever closer on the horizon, I’d already decided to take ten days enforced rest post race to allow my body to completely recover before starting my next training block into LL100.
Whether it was mental fatigue, work or just general loss of mojo, I really struggled to pull this race report together. I quickly processed and published my photographs from the day, getting really good feedback which is always appreciated. The writing took significantly more effort however, hence the delay in getting this out, my apologies for that.
My memories of my first running of The Fellsman are extremely positive though and I am absolutely certain I will be back to tackle this course again in the future, maybe even as early as next year. Many say its a race that can really suck you in and I can definitely see how that would be the case. It is a superbly organised event, exceptional value for money, with both a stunning and challenging course to boot. What’s not to like?
A huge thanks to the event organisers and the marshals manning all the checkpoints, many through the night in harsh weather and remote locations. You are legends one and all and your support throughout the race was really appreciated.
A final special thanks though go to Andy, Matt, Jim, Jen and Fiona for adopting me into their group and being such excellent companions throughout the day. Their humour and combined prior knowledge of the route really took the pressure off navigation wise and it was a real pleasure to spend the day (and night) with them and all complete the course together.
That’s it! What now follows are the lessons I feel I learned from the race, the kit and nutrition I used and also the race route and statistics. If you’re interested in any of those then read on. If not, then thanks once again and you are officially excused!
There are so many things I could take away from this race but here are the main ones I want to consider in future races:
- Waterproof socks are a must for this kind of terrain and would have really aided the comfort throughout the day. This is something I need to get a practice with ahead of the Spine Challenger in 2017.
- Despite my concerns prior and during the race I got my layering spot on, even having my insulated jacket in reserve at the end. Need to trust my gut instinct more in the future, I had prior experience to draw upon and should have trusted this.
- My Ultimate Direction PB Adventure Vest 3.0 although crammed full was perfect this race, with everything I needed readily to hand. A full review will follow soon on this site I am sure
- For this race Mountain Fuel worked well for me as a supplement to the food I carried or was supplied at the checkpoints. Tailwind less so, although I previously haven’t had any problems with this. For my next race I will try to use Mountain Fuel exclusively and see how I get on
- My Inov-8 Roclite 295 shoes worked really well, providing an excellent balance of grip and comfort throughout the race. While I suffered no blisters, in the following days I did have some tenderness on the ball of the my right foot. I have no recollection of hitting this during the race and it may well have been while my feet were cold and wet at some point. With the rocky ground for the Lakeland 100 I may well switch back to my beloved Brooks Cascadias but will definitely use the Roclites for races with rough terrain such as The Fellsman in the future.
- I loved The Fellsman! Upland races are definitely my kind of thing and I will definitely be back for another crack at this in the future
Kit and Nutrition
On race day I wore the following:
- Injinji liner and X-Socks Sky Run 2.0 socks
- Inov-8 Roclite 295’s with Inov-8 Gaiters
- X-Bionic Running Pants
- Inov-8 Merino Wool Short Sleeve Base Layer and Long Sleeve Base Layer
- Various buffs and gloves
- Montane Windproof jacket
- Adidas Evil Eye Half Rim Pro Sunglasses, with orange lens
- Ultimate Direction PB Adventure Vest 3.0
We all carried the following mandatory kit:
- Headtorch plus spare battery
- Waterproof jacket and trousers – Montane Minimus Jacket and Salomon Bonatti trousers
- Spare long sleeve base layer top
- Insulated jacket
- Ample nutrition – Nakd bars, Chia Charge bites and Shotbloks
- Ample hydration – 2 x 500ml Soft flasks with Nuun, Mountain Fuel, and Tailwind
- Beanie and gloves
- iPhone in waterproof case
- Bivy bag
- 300grams of emergency rations
- Maps and compass for the route
- First aid kit and whistle
- Collapsing cup and spork
I also carried the following additional personal kit:
- Primaloft Mitts
- iPod Nano and headphones
- Various odds and sods added to the first aid kit, including an emergency spare light, small amount of toilet paper, some pain killers and cash
- Clear lens for sunglasses plus optical inserts
The Route and My Race Stats
The route is stated as being 61 miles, however as it is a point to point race the actual distance covered will vary from participant to participant. For the record I covered a total distance of 98.96 kilometres or 61.85 miles, with 3,700m (11,100ft) of ascent
Pace wise, I averaged 11:47 per kilometre across the entire course, which is obviously pretty slow but just goes to show how hard the terrain was. Of my 19 plus hours out on the course, I was climbing for 9 hours and descending for, 8 hours, with just 2:25 on the flat.
I would usually monitor my heart rate during the race, aiming to keep it around 140bpm. I didn’t bother with this this time around and ended up with an average heart rate of 121bpm, again a reflection of how slow we were moving.