Race Organising

When I started Fell running, or running off road before that, I had no ambition to race (despite that being the impetus to get me started – I got entered into a race in 2008 – the GRIM).  But as the runs got longer, faster and more challenging and my fitness grew and being a smidge competitive the racing idea really bit.  Now lets be frank – I am a mid to back pack runner.  A top 50% finish for me is a good day and racing typically for me is as much an extension to the ‘adventure’ an off road run offers me – but typically in a different place over unfamiliar ground .

That all said I have grown to really enjoy the buzz and the sense of camaraderie at Fell races.  a Fell race start line is second only to a doctors waiting room for horrific medical stories.  “Hello mate – how are you?”, “oh blimey, you wouldn’t believe the ache I have in my left leg..” OR “well I’ve got this cold and I’ve not run for over two weeks”, “rough mate, I just want to get round and finish today you know..?” and so on.  Make no mistake, the minute “go!” is shouted these people, if you so much as blink, will have left you in their wake for dead.

Its great.

2018 SBPR start line, just before my brief.

One such race that I really enjoyed was the Stan Bradshaw Pendle Round.  A classic race on Pendle Hill, just short of ten miles and about 590m of climb its reputation is that of a very runnable race – the record is an hour and six minutes.  The bulk of the climb is all at the beginning, the rest is level or trending downhill, bar too short sharp climbs near the end. It is a race organised by my running club – Clayton Le Moors Harriers. Check points to run too, no marked course to follow, local knowledge and or navigation skills required.  In Fell runners speak it looks like this: BM, 16.7km/590m ER/LK/NS over 18.

The extra challenge is that it is an early spring race – the first Saturday in March so the weather can play its role too.  I ran it three times in all and continue to enjoy the running the route to this day, which is just as well really!

After the 2015 the Race Organiser (RO) wanted to step down and was keen to off load the race ASAP.  I had long thought that organising races might be a way to make some income – you know £25 race entry for a medal and t-shirt type races. Fell Running is about as far from that as one could imagine, but might be a good place to learn the skills required to operate commercial races.  The SBPR was essentially a fundraiser for the Clayton Junior section (subsidised vests and race entries for the kids etc.) but also made a donation to the local Mountain Rescue Team (Rossendale and Pendle MRT). the conversation ran between various committee members and running training nights, but no one wanted to pick it up.  I wanted to run it, so stayed quiet.. (RO’s cant run in their own races… ish) Then I thought, well perhaps I should be the one to RO, I like the race, I know the hill and the route well, i felt I would be a suitable ‘custodian’ of such a well established race.  Although the SBPR came in to being in 2011 before this it was named the Half Tour Of Pendle and goes back over 40 years.  I tentatively put my hand up….

Eek! what have I done! How hard can it be?  Book the hall, a few entries, get a few marshals, bit of cash handling….  And to be fair that’s what it is.  Its quite busy for a really short space of time and then it goes silent for about 9 months of the year.  I am fortunate to be a part of a big running club. Clayton organise multiple local races and have a huge amount of resource and expertise an such matters and whatever questions I had – they were well answered.  My regular running group pals were all keen to help out and support me in 2016 – my first bout as RO as well as several of the ‘legacy’ marshals who like to help out at that race in a specific location – some of those I have yet to meet! (CP3)

A big part of Fell Runners Association (FRA) races is the Race HQ, frequently rural, a local school or marquee at a summer fete for example, the SBPR runs out of Barley Village Hall where the committee there put on soup and cakes and drinks for the runners post race – always a long queue for Audrey’s soup! A formal expectation is that RO’s liaise with local land owners to get permission for the race to be run.  This is where the fun started… Most of the land owners are very supportive and understand that 200 odd runners are not going to have a long term impact on some of the less well used tracks and trods on the hill and so are happy to give consent, this includes United Utilities – the local water company who have been nothing but supportive as I learn this trade. One individual farmer however has a tricky set up, his sheep lamb in early March and the home fields he uses to keep the ewe’s close are the same fields we want to finish our race in.  The big concern is rainfall – too much and the ground (boggy at the best of times) gets cut up making it difficult to get his quad bikes up the hill to collect any struggling ewe’s and bring them back to the yard.  Now I get that – this land is his income essentially, where as it is my recreation. Of course I will support him in that and do not want to make a tough job harder but I do believe the impact of the runners – on a public right of way anyway – is over stated.  Either way, I have been asked to re route the finish.  Not a major problem and actually the re route has been praised as a better finish by many.

After that first discussion – and refusal I decided in the medium term I wanted to change the route.  That said in 2017 – were were on the usual finish, 2018 changed again!  I am now determined to change the route to avoid his land full stop.   Best get the map out!

So what are the stresses and worries?

Well, entry forms in advance.  It should be an easy matter – I know, I fill them in to, but peoples hand writing is at least as bad as mine!  ( I type and print mine out). Also – email addresses, I ask for an email so I can acknowledge I have received the runners entry  – a simple courtesy to my mind but also to pass information regarding route changes, or even a possible cancellation, if runners don’t supply an email address – it is a pain – potentially for them! I must confess the idea of an online entry system is appealing….

Flagging the amended course in sub zero gale force winds the night before.

The weather.  We had snow in 2016 and 2018. Barley village is in a valley with several steep hill roads around that regularly get cut off in snow.  The weather is the main consideration really, although the concern is less for the runners well being – they will have decent kit (we check) and tend to like the adventure… it is the marshals, who are stood largely still for several hours and have to get in to position and off the hill again.  I marshal myself in both a paid professional basis and as a club volunteer – I know how baltic it can be stood still for a few hours – even on a summers evening! So the initial risk assessment I did, in line with the FRA’s RO guidelines gave consideration to weather impacting on the race.  In short, if we can get to the start line there will be a race – it just may be a shortened one, as this year 2018.

Marshals.  Getting the right people in the right place at the right time. It takes approximately 25 people to steward the race to the standard I want. This is in part due to various Checkpoints (CP’s) requiring a count of the runners – not just heads, but the actual number on their vest so we know not just how many but WHO is on the hill and ultimatley safe back again. Believe me the various sweepers who have supported the race all tell tales of runners “heading off in the wrong direction” or generally looking confused with a map in their hands.  The count is a vital mechanism.  Following a fatality during a race – that could have possibly been prevented -no one new the runner was missing, the start line count has become a part of the fell running tradition.  We know that as so few people grumble about it now! Especially on the longer races or when the weather is poor.

Three orange marshals

For accounts of the tragic side of fell running – it does have its very real risks – do read Steve Chilton’s “its a hill – get over it”  A great book on Fell running, which mentions several Clayton legends and races including the SBPR amongst its place in the wider athletic world.

Future Plans

As a club Clayton are keen to encourage more people in to the sport (fell running) as are the FRA, so with this in mind, as as a tool to help me keep abreast of the race course conditions as much as anything else, in 2017 I offered to host two reconnoiters of the course (recce’s) for people who perhaps had never done the race, but weren’t sure if that distance on the fell was for them. I offered it at a slow pace, (c2.5 hours) with time spent looking at the map to explore route options and also allow people the time to gain some familiarity with the course.  In 2017 over the two dates I had just under 30 people join me from the club and in 2018 over two dates we had 14.  Most of which came and did the actual race – so time well spent!  Next year I am going to run one for the club and one for the wider fell running community – I shall advertise it to local clubs I expect. I do intend to develop a new route also…. before the bracken gets too tall!

Here is a copy of the race report from the 2018 which should be in the Spring 2018 Fellrunner magazine.

 

The 2018 SBPR started as a pleasure to organise.  The land owner conversations were ‘positive’ despite not getting the usual route (please believe me there is a usual route!). Changed course it is then. I prefer that amended route anyway! I know many of you did to.With a changed course, marshals sorted and memories of last year’s balmy conditions… what could possibly go wrong?                                                                                            Enter “the beast from the east” some family commitments, and various other situations requiring attention in the South East in the preceding days and all of a sudden it got quite tense…. The plan was to leave the South 8.00am Friday morning to be in Barley for 17.00 to assess the route/flag the amendment and make any final decisions that evening to get the word out the night before what was happening – by 8.00pm at the latest.  “The best laid plans…” and all that. After an epic journey back north on Friday, caused not by weather, but by road works led to me being over two hours late (thanks Steve B and Mark N for being so flexible!). Several villagers kept me updated on road conditions, so knew as long as we could get to Barley there would be a race of some sort! (Three times round the car park anyone?)

I eventually got my boots on the hill around 19.30.  Goodness it was windy!  But actually aside from the odd drift, the ground conditions were pretty good. The wind was forecast to be dropping, so the “shortened race” option was the obvious one.  Thank you to my wife for getting a “he is on his way” message out on Facebook!  I eventually got to speak to the Marshal team and all of them were very prepared to don their big coats and make the race happen. Phew!

The race delivered some testing conditions which will live long in the memory of the 156 runners who set off.  A strong field with some great route choice saw a tight battle between some Pendle regulars and an Airedale Orienteer– Alasdair McLeod, eventually stealing a march on Holmesy and Clayton local Holdsworth to take top honours.  Thank you to everyone who thanked me on the day and in the days after, but as ever the biggest thanks go to the marshals who we hope to have thawed by March 2nd 2019. 

Colin.

The race nets about £500 for the club and Mountain Rescue.  I do enjoy the process and like very much seeing racing from a different perspective.

It enables me to “put something back in” to a sport I have come to love and feel passionately about.  I fully intend to continue organising the race for the foreseeable future.

For those wondering who Stan Bradshaw was, and why he has a race named after him, you will have to come to Barley Village Hall, on the first Saturday in March with your fell shoes on and read the history of the great man on a display I put up inside the hall to occupy the awaiting runners.

See you on the fell.

 

The OMM Lite, September 9-10 2017

The OMM (Original Mountain Marathon) is just that, a marathon in the mountains originally launched as test of team work, mountain skill and running ability. The OMM has long been the bench mark of multi day navigation based events in the fell running/orienteering community.  The OMM Lite is a more recent idea, developed as an entry point to multi day running events, or as a training vehicle, it is on trails and rights of way rather than open fell/mountain with the navigation being less daunting. The checkpoints are at path junctions or significant features rather than on some tiny contour feature in the middle of nowhere!
The Day One map – with weather enforced edits
The other key difference is that the the competitors in teams of two, don’t need to carry their overnight kit like on the full OMM, you return to a central point to refuel, recover and sleep.  The OMM also want to encourage families to attend so family tents, partners and children  are welcome to make use of the event cafe and bar!  This would be my second OMM Lite (and 10th Mountain Marathon) and the plan was that  last years team mate (and previous OMM partner and general running pal) – Graeme from Scotland would run with me whilst our wives and children would amuse themselves around the Yorkshire Dales for the 7 hours on the Saturday and the 5 hours on the Sunday of the “Long Score” format.  We would be charging around the Hawes area finding red and white flags with Sport Ident dibbers and collecting points.
What we were seeking
Well, that was the plan….
On Wednesday before the Friday night drive to Hawes, Graeme rang to say his wife had been quite poorly and that the weekend was in doubt… They would know more after a Thursday morning doctors visit.  By 10.00 am Thursday morning, the weekend was off!
With Jenny ordered to bed rest, Graeme clearly wasn’t going to abandon her with their 6 year old to come and charge around boggy bits of Yorkshire with me.  Gutted!  A quick scan of the website and OMM rules and a brief exchange of emails and text messages with the organisers and it became clear I could turn up and run solo, but be ‘non competitive’ for the weekend having been judged to have had enough experience to do so -or find a partner and transfer the entry, which we could do right up till the start on Saturday morning.
I was working for Outdoor Elements that day on a ‘big group’ day, so it was much later that afternoon before I could start reaching out to people I thought might be up for it.  But… No joy with the ‘usual suspects’ from the BG Whats App group so I thought it was time for drastic measures and potentially to find someone I perhaps didnt know. After all, worse case scenario I would treat it as work!  A quick post on the Team Clayton Facebook page, after all its a big enough club- someone must be up for it and available!  But no… desperation kicked in… the idea of being non competitive just did not appeal – those that know me, know I am never going to win these things – but I am damn well going to put a shift in and the idea of getting a “good score” but it meaning nothing was too frustrating to consider.  Time for a post on the Fell Runners Association Facebook page.  BINGO!  Within thirty minutes I had some potential partners, with one looking promising, he (Paul) had done the OMM before, completed the Spine Challenger race (110 miles up the Pennine Way) and could get a pass for the weekend which by 9 pm on a Thursday evening was no mean feat!
We arranged to speak Friday lunch time and by then,  the show was back on the road. so Paul, and I met at registration on Saturday morning in Hawes at 8.30 am and by 9.45 were running the OMM Long Score together.
a muddy field with some stuff in it
And what a weekend it was! The weather was wet to say the least, torrential rain had caused many of the rivers to be in spate so several fords were now marked as out of bounds and a few checkpoints were dropped for competitor safety, but the two of us seemed to find an even stride. When you have 7 hours to fill on the hill with a complete stranger, you talk about a lot of stuff! With weirdly loads of that stuff in common, we discussed the possibility that either of us could be some kind of axe murderer, but ultimately agreed the fact we were there meant we were the right kind of crazy!
Day one team selfie
It turned out we were both generally “mid table” in our results. I’ve always said top 50% is a good result for me, top 75% is more common!  SO what happened that Saturday was just bizarre…and amazing.  We came in after 6 hours 45 minutes, 41 km and a score of 500 points to find ourselves in 9th!!!  9th!!! I’ve never been that high up a leader board in my life!  A celebratory beer was in order!
Athlete! We are actually sat with the team in 12th place overnight swapping stories from the days doings.
We were both gob smacked, but very thankful that we clicked the way we did.  Our strategy and tactics seemed in tune.  We were keen to put in a good performance to see what we could achieve on the Sunday…could we improve our lot? Would we slip down the field? Was this as good as it was going to get? We had met the teams in 7th and 12th and seen several of the other teams around us earlier on the hill – competition was going to be strong.  For me, sleep that night was good and deep, tired and satisfied at a good days trot.
A little too good in fact – My alarm went off at 6.55… I shut it off and promptly went back to sleep!  Waking again at 7.25, I was decidedly on the back foot – we had arranged to meet at 8.30 am to set off soon after!
The forecast was shocking – heavy rain due in from mid morning and a stronger wind for the rest of the day. We were going to have to dig deep to battle the elements and see if we would hold on. Neither Paul or I had ever finished in the top ten before… but we were kinda liking the view!
We eventually set off at 8.40.  At a gentle pace initially to allow ourselves a gradual warm up and legs creaking back to life. It was a tough day over much more traditional OMM terrain, with greater distance between the check points to boot.  The high ground was particularly tough in the wind, but we both felt we had enough in the tank to push for the higher value checkpoints – the risk with these events is always that you can push too far and end up burnt out and miles away from the finish line which leads to penalty deductions if you are late back. I have on several occasions early on in my mountain marathon/adventure racing career made this mistake and lost most of my points by being 30 minutes and later back to base! We were both keen to avoid such a mistake today.
Day two. Tired, wet – but determined.
We nailed it. 4 hours 56 minutes and 30km on our feet we came back knowing we couldn’t have done any better or given anymore.  Cold, wet and keen to get the results we sat down to eat the finishers meal and waited for the course to close and results to come in….7th!!!  7th!!!  We’d made up places!  My highest finish ever in a race, never mind a mountain marathon – with a complete stranger by my side!  Astonished didn’t begin to describe the expression on our faces. We knew we had run well, but 7th!
Paul was every bit as amazed as I was, 7th was his best ever result also. To top it all we were 3rd in age category.  3rd!!!
BOOM!
All in all we had plucked triumph from the jaws of my despair – on Thursday evening I wasn’t sure if I was even going to be there at all. To then place in the top ten is still, a few days later, quite astonishing.  I am sure there is a message in there somewhere…..  I am still to chuffed to work out what it is though.
Roll on the ROC Mountain Marathon in two weeks time!
For those interested, I ran in Injinji toe socks, Innov-8 Roclite 280’s (old model) New Balance shorts, and Berghaus zip l/s tech tee with a Haglofs wind proof gillet on top. An 18 litre Mountain Hardwear bag with bladder carried the kit, Montane Minimus waterproofs, first aid kit, survival bag, snacks, SIS gels and electrolyte tabs, 2x buffs (not used), gloves (not used), cap and whistle. My extra ‘warm’ layer (not used) was a Marmot Dri-clime gillet.  Food wise I was a bag a day trail mix man – jelly babies, wine gums, cereal bars cut in to chunks and malt loaf in chunks with peanut M&M’s. Saturday I ate two sausage rolls as snacks, Sunday a small pork pie.

The Tour of Pendle 2016

The 33rd running of the Tour of Pendle.

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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“).

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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.

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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.

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