3, 2, 1 - Go, lad!
First run in 1954 with a mere 6 runners (and 3 finishers!), this year’s 60th anniversary was something of a bigger event with just under 1000 entrants. It was race I’d always wanted to do, made extra special by being my 100th race.
Bright and early on Saturday morning, Ged, Andy J, Rob and I were heading north in intermittent rain with various degrees of anticipation, excitement and apprehension, and thinking of our fellow Spartans taking part in the Fellsman and the Highland Fling – this was Spartan Super Saturday! It had rained the previous day and the forecast was rain until noon with 20-30mph wind on the tops – lovely! After registering and the safety talk from the race director, we were at the start line when miraculously the rain eased off and there was even a hint of sunshine. I chose to keep my jacket on though, knowing how fickle the weather could be.
I placed myself in the start group with an estimated finish time of 4-5 hours, along with Ged. Rob and Andy were somewhere upfront. Three, two, one – BANG – we were off! What a site as 1000 fell runners wove through Horton in Ribblesdale and then up the stony track ascending Pen-y-Ghent, the first of the 3 peaks. It’s a steady climb most of the way before the track kicks up to the summit, by which time the leaders were hurtling down past us on the descent. I made the summit trig point in 44 mins and dibbed in, turned and headed down as Ged came past me. It was brightening up nicely now so a quick stop to pack the jacket and I was off downhill again – woohoo! I caught up with Ged and we ran together along good trails and through sections of the world’s stickiest mud that clung to my Fellraisers and turned them into Hokas. We soon reached the first cut-off point at High Birkwith in 1h 21min, well within the 1h 45 cut-off. Then along the road section to Ribblehead which, as well as the fell runners, was busy with walkers taking part in a charity challenge and a bike race. I was glad to finish the road section and reach Ribblehead in 1h 52, again feeling pleased to have time in the bank against the cut-off of 2h 10. I found the drink bottle I’d arranged to pick up here, a few swigs and a gel and off again,, Whernside looming ominously above.
When Ben and I recce’d the route in January, this was the hardest section so I knew what to expect. I’d been running at about a 4 hour finish time pace so far, and was grateful that I had the time cushion. Over Force Gill like a bunch of colourful wildebeest, then into the tussock and bog of the climb, grab a gel, hands on knees, single file, panting, runners snaking ahead up the near-vertical final section onto the summit. Then it was my turn as the ground reared up and it was hands and feet up the ridge, trying not to fall backwards. The wind smacked into me as I made Whernside summit in 2h 39, then an erratic descent, weaving between walkers and being blown around by the gusty wind. The congested path definitely slowed things down, and I took some more direct lines to keep running. When I dared look up from the path the view was spectacular, with Ingleborough now dominating the horizon. It’s humbling to think that the course record holder finished in the time it’s taken me to get here!
Hill Inn checkpoint where another drink bottle was waiting was reached in 3h 09, time to take another gel and eat some fruit and marzipan cake. Still feeling ‘in the green’ although getting tired but managed to trot through the fields that mark the start of the ascent of Ingleborough. The next section is single file paved slabs, with everyone by now running/walking. The short sharp steep final push to summit plateau of Ingleborough is over quickly, dibbed in at 3h 59. That last section was about 15 min than I would have liked, but hey, still feeling good and just having a great race.
I manage a steady pace on the steady descent off Ingleborough with the limestone paving of Sulber Nick in the distance, cramming a couple of pieces of mint cake to keep topped up. It was still slippy and claggy through here, but nowhere near as bad as the recce in January. 4h 30 ticks past as I reach the Sulber Nick radio car; 2.5k to go, so I know I’m on for a sub-5 finish – Yes! This should be fast easy running over lovely grassy paths – but not after 22ish miles and over 5000 feet of ascent so I manage a steady jog until I crest the final bank and there’s the glorious site of the finish marquee! I pick up the pace and cross the line in 4h 53m 32s, feeling elated.
I find Rob and Andy, nursing a dislocated finger sustained at the ladder stile 3 miles from the finish, and then Ged finishes a few minutes later.
That was a hugely enjoyable race, brilliantly organised and I can see why people come back year after year!