For the last four months I’ve been preparing for this 61mile 11,000ft ultra distance fell race. Now in its 53rd year the race is a classic test of endurance and navigation following a route from Ingleton over the highest terrain of the Yorkshire Dales to Threshfield. I’d run 13hrs 57mins previously and wanted to beat that and to clear the last hill before dusk when the runners are halted at the checkpoints and grouped into teams of four who must stay together until they are off the fells.
After a good start to the year fell racing I was happy I’d put the miles in averaging about 10,000ft and 40-60mpw. I knew the route well after some long winter recce runs and having competed in 2014. I had refined my kit after the TDS in Chamonix and ditched the poles this time.
The only thing I had doubts about was nutrition as I’d experienced really bad stomach problems at the Fellsman, TDS and the end of my Bob Graham Round. Running ultra distances is obviously not “normal” for your body in many ways but trying to eat on the run and keeping food down can be a real issue.
Years of competitive cycling had put me off energy drinks which made me feel sick and I’d started relying on gels but this occasionally caused stomach cramps which isn’t what you want 40 miles from the finish. The Fellsman have a fantastic organisational machine providing hot food and drink at 9 aid stations on the route but last year I overdid it and ate too much proper food which gave me pain, nausea and sickness.
I’d tried Mountain Fuel blackcurrant energy drink in a few long training runs and liked it. It doesn’t taste sickly or too sweet and miraculously doesn’t get sticky when you inevitably spill it everywhere when refilling. I decided to use this throughout the event rather than water & gels and hoped it would give me much needed fuel but also keep the cramp at bay.
The weather forecast was grim and put many of the 500 entrants off so it was a soggy, serious start from Ingleton. From the off defending champion Adam Perry from Helm Hill Runners set a fast pace with his nearest rival and legendary Ultra Runner Jez Bragg hot on his heels. I was surprised to find myself 8th at the second summit of Whernside and turned just a 100m or so behind Jez and about 5 mins behind Adam. I was worried I’d maybe over done it but felt good so kept going and found myself running alone for the next 30 miles or so. I ran through the first two aid stations and stopped only briefly to top my bottle up at Dent.
At Stonehouse I had a mug full of plain pasta and set off into the rain which turned to snow which turned into a blizzard on the summit checkpoint of Gt Knoutberry. I started to get seriously cold wearing only a base layer and a Montane Minimus smock which infuriatingly kept riding up my back exposing me to the cold and needed pulling down every couple of minutes.
At the next checkpoint I stopped to put another layer on but my hands wouldn’t work very well. Having wrapped up I set off jogging across the moor with a mug of soup. The bogs are a feature of the Fellsman as much of it is trackless and the route traverses the infamous Fleet Moss as it turns towards the finish. I wore Salomon Speedcross3 which are my long stuff shoe of choice and I didn’t have any foot problems at all.
At Fleet Moss I grabbed a mug of tea and half a sandwich and set off with Great Whernside visible some 20 miles further on now the cloud finally lifted. The next section is crucial as navigation and route choice is important in the tussocky peat bog terrain. I got my navigation right and overtook another couple of runners moving up into 6th with Adam Perry’s brother Chris in my sights.
Onto Buckden Pike I caught Chris and thought I had him but he must’ve been having a bad patch as he perked up and we ran closely all the way through the leg without even stopping at the final aid station and started up Great Whernside. Chris started to pull away so I resorted to caffeine gels to try to boost my energy but I couldn’t stay with him and he dropped me on the descent.
As I came off the fell and started down the last road section to Grassington with the sun coming out to give a beautiful sunset I was elated. As I ran through the village I realised sub-12hrs was a possibility and forgot about my soreness and went for it down, over the bridge and up into Threshfield to the finish.
I’d done it, finishing in 11hrs 59mins and 6th place. I’d knocked 2hrs off my previous time and was the first over 40 home.
The overall nutrition strategy had worked really well with no cramp and no stomach problems whatsoever. The Mountain Fuel was fantastic and the fact I could still drink it after 12hrs shows how easy it is to use.
Next up is the Old County Tops Fell Race in May, a few long races in June and then The Lakeland 50 & 100 in July for my first 100.