The Sale Fell Race
What goes up, usually comes down…
Kevin Zwolinski on a step into the danger zone…
Report – Kevin Zwolinski
I’m referring to a rare form of exercise and self-inflicted torture call Fell Running. Only undertaken in places like Wales, Peak District, and of course the Big Daddy of them all Cumbria, also famous for circular sausages which are rather good with mashed spuds. Ooops distracted already.
Following a very painful effort back in the summer on the ‘Not-the-Latrigg’ fell race, one deemed most suitable for road runners, I was determined to improve my skills in this dark art. So having unwisely announced this to my hosts, my mailbox was full of ‘here’s the next one for you’. I chose Saturday 25 Nov The Sale Fell race, that’ll do nicely.
Well supported with around 180 competitors, we gathered for the start at noon last Saturday about 100m up a track from a very narrow road, or about 50m as the crow flies.
Blimey, that was steep – important lesson number 1. The extensive facilities amounted to one multi-tasking trestle table for signing on, kit checking, and a warm welcome in the sub-zero shade of the fell. Fast forward to the end of the race and that same table was straining under the weight of ‘loads of cake’.
The previous night got down to minus 4°C, and in the shade it hadn’t changed much, but – there’s always a but – we had the most beautiful clear blue sky, frost covered ground, and the scenery was simply stunning. Everybody was smiling, remember this was before the start.
Cheerful lot the Cumbrians, one commented on my yellow/ black shirt. Q1 Where’s Stratford upon Avon? A1 In Warwickshire. Q2 Is that near Derby? A2 No, about 70 miles south of there. Oh, I don’t go south of Sheffield… Have a good run mate! Off he goes to get ready for the start and join the rest of the cross breeds, those fell runners seem to me to be half mountain goat, and half stick insect.
So what faced us was only 3.7 or so miles, including a 900ft climb: muddy; slippery; rocky; sun in your face (not complaining); beautiful distracting scenery (one runner stopped near the top of the steepest climb section to take some photos…); narrow tracks to get up the fell; glorious sunshine on top with grassy wide paths; then back down to earth on the same tracks.
It was so narrow at the start that mid-pack onwards had to walk (albeit nearly vertically) the first 300m or so, with a few gateways to negotiate.
Once we spread out a bit it didn’t take long to ‘find your feet’ and realise just how slippery it really was. Actually, this was OK for me because my first objective was to stay on my feet, which amazingly I did. Fellow trail runners will know my track record in such matters.
We had walked the course on Friday afternoon, so I sort of knew where I was going, except that walking it and running (mostly) are a bit different. In the run you look for every single next step and on the really steep climbs, you are looking at your feet pushing off from your knees, so no orientation of the surroundings whatsoever. Timewise it was about 70% climbing, 10% flat-ish on top and 20% downhill. It’s the last bit that’s truly scary.
I had been running more-or-less in the same group up to the summit, but then as planned I tried to kick out on the flat, the grass was wet but not icy so that was OK. Picked off the few in front then chased two ladies down the fell onto the narrow track which was still a mile or so from the finish. Now please don’t get the wrong idea, that’s not what I am usually doing on Saturday lunchtime…
The spectators were shouting warnings about how slippery it was there, apparently a few had gone over just there I was to find out later and suddenly I was sliding all over the place.
I had noticed that I was one of the very few not wearing chunky Innov8 shoes…. Just about held that and manged to get past one of the ladies, but we were going fast (for me anyway). Strava tells me that was my 3rd fastest mile at 7.07 downhill wet, slippery and so on. I had to concentrate so hard because if I had gone over I would still be rolling down the fell now!
Over the line and congratulated those in front and behind, a really friendly lot and a very different set of faces at the finish compared to the start. Rather worryingly there was a lot of blood on display and the poor chap from St Johns Ambulance was a very busy indeed. Mostly cuts and grazes on shoulders, arms and knees but they are a hardy lot. Not seen that many injuries at the end of a run before, and apparently most of it due to that sharp turn.
So there we have it. I was absolutely chuffed to finish safely and to beat my target time by a good margin. I finished just inside the 3rd quartile which I was told was respectable, and I really enjoyed it, euphoric for the rest of the day.
Beautiful weather, gorgeous scenery and jolly good bunch of folk. Mention must be made of ‘Barry’ who finished last, but not by that much. He received a huge round of applause as he descended to the finish, aged 83…
Strava must have still been doing a Black Friday offer because many noticed a difference between the official results and their Strava time. I’ll take the lower one thanks, and I will be running the Cumbrian fells again in 2024 for sure.