The Tour of Pendle 2016

The 33rd running of the Tour of Pendle.

Pendle Hill on the drive over, about 8.30 am race day

It’s a classic fell running race up my local hill – Pendle Hill (557m).  I say ‘up’ it.  Its basically up and down it five times from various sides.  Its held in mid November and is the last AL race of the FRA (Fell Runners Association) calendar for the year.  ‘AL’ is the grading of race – ‘A’ being steepest, ‘L’ being longest.  It works out at 27km (16.8miles) and getting on for 1400m of climb.  Part of its attraction is the fact that its a long race at a time of year where the weather can play a big part on the outcome.  None more than in 2015, where the course was shortened (to a BL) due to the threat of a horrendous storm, low temps, driving torrential rain and strong winds.  So with bated breath the 447 entrants on the start list I suspect were watching the forecast with a great deal of anticipation… I know I was!

The forecast was for intermediate snow/sleet/rain lower down throughout the day, and although with windchill the temperature was going to be well below zero, the winds were not strong and from the one direction, meaning part of the course would be ‘chill free’.  Part of me expected a shortened course… but YAY not this time!  I have been ready for this race and looking forward to running it for a while now, several recent long training runs, the BG recce, three mountain marathons this year – I felt the best prepared for this race since about 2012.  Bring.It.On.

I had set myself the goal of sub 4 hours in the previous weeks,  (my PB being 3.45), conscious the snow would have an impact, I still felt that was attainable, even if a PB was not.

With multiple club mates and clubs from all over the country in attendance, the Tour is something of a marquee race in fell terms – everyone wants a good run.  Most first timers just want to “finish it” (there is a cut off two hours in at Checkpoint 4). Fell runners can be judged on their “Tour time” in the same way their  performance is gauged in the ‘Lakes Classics’.  The route is enshrined in Pendle Fell running lore; club runs on the hill are described by Tour route ‘reference’ points. That route being: “From the Village (Barley) Hall, up the reservoir road to Buttock, then to the Trig (top), but don’t stop, across to the gate/ladder stile, then to the gap in the wall – Checkpoint 1, before cutting across the moor (boggy!) to pick up the Ogden/main track heading for Apronfull Hill and the Quarry – CP2, before an about turn down to Churn Clough Res(ervoir) and CP3, then climb up on to Spence Moor before charging down ‘Geronimo’ and on to CP4, also known as “Bill’s Stone” after the memorial there to Bill Smith. (I recommend you Google “Bill Smith Fell Runner“).

Geronimo – a notoriously fast descent to a valley floor

This is about half way in distance terms… however the Tour’s sting is all the big climbs are on the back half of the race!  From CP4, its along Ogden Valley, climb out of this and up to the main track, down Ashendean Clough to CP5, before heading up again to the Memorial Cairn (two CleM runners, who sadly died in the nineties in separate incidents, but both pursuing what they loved to do).  CP6 is beyond here, cross the wall and aim for the ‘Big Dipper’ (Mearley Clough), an insanely steep descent to CP7 at a stream/wall crossing, before crossing the stream then immediately climbing straight back out an equally steep hill to ‘Scout Cairn’-CP8, (Pile of stones on the OS map). Connoisseurs of contours will enjoy looking at Mearley Clough!  From  CP8 its along the top ridge line, past shelter cairn, over the ladder stile and then DOWN to CP9.  This is the killer blow. Its a long way down on ‘Downham side’ (a small village to the north west of Pendle HIll) and an even longer way back up  – ‘the Big End’ again, to the trig, and CP10. Then its time to summon whatever you have left and charge down a long gentle hill from CP10, across Barley Moor to CP11 (same as CP4) to then join the main reservoir track back to the Village Hall.  Sounds simple right?

To be fair it is – even in poor visibility, there is no real navigation required, a well worn trod has been created and even in the snow – well, it was a foot deep rut in places more or less all the way round. So provided you are not in the top ten or so and leading, you just need follow that.  The snow negated any local knowledge I could bring (frustrating – I have plenty) as the moment you were out of the trod, you were in enough snow to impede progress, (unless descending, in which case snow is the best thing ever!) so all the little runners trods and snickets on to runnable/less technical terrain were all the same – snowbound and therefore out of bounds.

the ‘Trod’

As the pictures and video clip suggest, the snow was on the ground and falling intermittently, making a really challenging race.  Runners wiser and more experienced than I, all remarked “that was the toughest Tour” they could remember – after 18,20,25 odd goes at it, they should know.  It was the combination of fallen snow, but unfrozen and therefore muddy tracks, with the wind, precipitation and poor visibility in places that seemed to add 20-30 minutes on to peoples expected times, the record for the Tour is 2 hours, 11 minutes.  The winning time today was two hours and nearly forty minutes, so there is something in that ‘plus 20 minutes’ for the conditions.

From my perspective this was my best Tour, and up there with some of my best races/runs.  I felt strong, was pleased with my performance and even though the Garmin says 4.09 (results not up as write this – so no official time yet) if you take 20 minutes off, that puts me where I wanted to be before I set off.  I felt as though I was passing more people than were passing me from CP1 onward and I got my food and drink right today, no flagging or bonking on the route at all.  A couple of negative things stood out, concerning other competitors poor decision making, mostly kit related but here and now is not the place for that.  I’ll save that rant for another day!  All in all an amazing days running and one for the memory bank.

I raced in 3/4 length leggings (OMM brand), Injini socks with Seal Skinz over the top, Innov-8 Mudclaw 300’s (classics – green and black), top half I started in a skinny fit long sleeve Helly Hansen base layer with CleM vest on top, but on the first climb from Buttock to the Trig when the frozen rain and wind blew in I put on my Montane Minimus smock and it stayed there for the duration. I also wore an Innov-8 peaked cap – great for protecting eyes in inclement weather. I also wore gloves -ODLO ones with a great pull over mitten feature – used plenty on this run, great for warming fingers/protecting from the wind.  In my OMM bum bag was the usual FRA kit – Waterproof pants (Montane Minimus again), a compass (-Silva type 3), route map, a trail mix bag of malt loaf, jelly babies and jelly beans, two SIS Gels and about 800mls of water with ~High5 electrolyte tabs in.  I can say that all the kit is well tested and trusted, but in particular today, the nutrition bit was spot on.

first climb, up to Buttock
tough conditions near the summit Trig
looking back down the final climb from CP9
reward. (log fire just out of shot)

The Depot Manchester (or, confessions of a self conscious boulderer)

So, I’ve never been a diligent, or good boulderer. I just don’t get it. Well I do, it just doesn’t float my boat…particularly. I understand the training benefits from a broader climbing perspective, the overall ‘challenge’ of it and to be frank, I am struggling to recall the last time I went. we are talking years!  Its something to do I think with people standing around, posing, tops off and watching… I think!

So why today then?  Well a mate had suggested checking The Depot out, a posh new wall in Manchester a few weeks ago. I had read some press, seen some reviews it all sounded very positive, so said yes, lets do it.  However he then cried off sick, so I went for a long run instead.  Skip to the present and I thought, I have a few hours, why not head to The Depot.  So I did.

After an epic snow filled, roadwork infested trip round the M60 taking nearly twice as long as it should have, I walked in, clean lines, ‘new’ feel definitely, and SPACE.  Lots of SPACE.  For a Friday late morning session there were people about, but with loads of space between them, pairs, solos, three’s all ascending and largely descending a variety of well spaced lines. I liked that… its clear to see the problem you are facing, rather than trying to decide if that hold is a yellow or green under layers of chalk/rubber/grime, they are clearly laid out and well spaced.  A good start.  So after the usual safety registration piece (membership is a fiver) I was pointed in the direction of the circuit board and each coloured line was graded from V0 to V10 some encompassing a range. The Junior ones were green and a bit “squished together” which I thought was good – challenges with the young’uns in mind and they had left up the competition routes as well from a bash a few days previous.  I scoffed and offered the fact I would be staying well away from those! To be told they start dead easy (they did too!) and get progressively harder… (they did that an all.)

So I started at the bottom (V0-V1) and thought I’ll bash through them all and then go on to some V1 to V2’s and maybe a comp line.  there were loads!  To be honest I lost count, but comfortably over a dozen – that is a good number for beginner lines and despite my discomfort “bouldering”  (be assured my top was on and staying there) I was enjoying the fact that I had been there 45 minutes and wasn’t bored yet having blasted through the easy stuff and getting spanked on the moderate grades!  I had a go at a few comp lines – I got to the third problem and two blues, before grabbing some food (kind of pricey, £1.50 for a coffee £3.90 for a pannini -but nice). Feeling replenished and rested I went back to the white circuit and went again… but by the 6th or 7th line I was feeling it in the arms so decided with a big race tomorrow I didn’t want to injure myself or stretch too far, so time to retreat.  So for £5 membership for the year – I will be back.

It looks like they change routes regularly, host other events (a film screening coming up, the comp the weekend previous, do parties etc) and run ‘Yoga for climbers’ sessions.  Location wise if you are Manchester based or west/south of Manchester, then its a no brainer.  For me, with the road works on the motorway (and okay the weather didn’t help) it took me three and a half hours to get there and back… I was expecting two!

Still, here it is:

A very small section of the Depot


Bob Graham Recce

A good running mate has decided that he is to take on the challenge of the Bob Graham Round in summer 2017.  For those that do not know, this is a historic fell running challenge, first completed by hotelier – Bob Graham in 1932, where by he set out to travel 66 miles including 42 peaks (Wainwrights) within 24 hours.  The challenge now has summer and winter completions, clockwise and anti-clockwise route choice and a whole lot of folklore surrounding it.

My mate, just fancies “having a go”.  And why not!  My running club, Clayton -le-Moors Harriers has a long record in fell running and ‘BG’ attempts. With several members having completed BG’s or supported BG’s there is no shortage of expertise in the route.  With a small hardy group of 7 (and Rosie) we arranged to meet in Threlkeld at the “leg change over” point so we could pile in to one vehicle to drive down to Dunmail Raise to then run back to the other car.  CleM run the BG anticlockwise.  I don’t know why… why not?

Threlkeld in the rain. Before we set off

The forecast was mixed, but with all saying sub zero in the wind, wet and fog/mist for much of the day we all took the decision to set off in full waterproofs.  For a fell runner – that never happens!  By the top of Seat Sandal, the first of our 11 “peaks” on this leg the decision was justified, with snow on the ground still and moisture pretty much everywhere, progress was steady, with time taken to view alternative lines of ascent and descent between the peaks on route.

top of Fairfield

All of us are experienced runners and mountain walkers so staying fueled, hydrated and warm was easy as all of us kept tabs on each other.  The youngest member of the group (aged 8 – Rosie) got extra attention, especially when the snacks were broken out!


Our day – approximately 23km, with 1600m of ascent took us over Helvellyn and the Dodds, some of the Lake’s biggest mountains and a cracking days walk for anyone.  We were rewarded by the fog and mist lifting briefly as we came off Fairfield toward Grisedale Tarn, before Dollywagon Pike.  What a view!

looking across Grisedale Tarn to Seat Sandal and Fairfield, from the slopes of Dollywaggon Pike

We made good progress and got back to the car (and near by pub) in five hours, with the weather improving all the time as soon as we got off Clough Head.  My lessons learned were very much personal -I can’t imagine the time when I will be fit enough to even dream about doing my own BG!  Other then that all my gear worked and I was comfortable all the way round, we didn’t need the group shelter as we didn’t stop long enough to need it.  It made a pleasant change to not be focussed on the nav for this one as three of the party have done and supported multiple BG’s – their ‘local knowledge’ was astounding.  Given how poor visibility was for much of the route I think I saw two bearings being taken all day!

Rosie on Dollywaggon Pike