Open 5 Series – Lake District – Coniston

Another winter, another Open 5 series… Yay! I look forward to these in a big way, once Barley Badgers start night running on Pendle again I know its not long to wait before the Open 5’s kick off.  Previous Open 5 posts and an explanation of the format are here.  This season there are only three events, every other month which I am disappointed about, but with Dark Mountains coming up in January, perhaps that’s no bad thing!

Coniston.  An area I know well having biked, walked, run, camped, climbed and raced around before, bring it on.  Feeling quite fit, with a sound bike under me I was fired up… the only curve ball might be the weather. the forecast for the preceding few days was for heavy snow, with yellow and amber warnings from the midlands up I loaded a van on Friday ready for an epic journey and was prepared to battle up the night before to ensure I could reach the start line….but on the Saturday (day before) the forecast changed and it looked like benign conditions, for the journey and settled snow and ice around Coniston with sunny skies promised too. Perfect conditions for an entertaining race.

With low level patches of snow and ice and definitely snow on the ground the scene was a pretty one.

Start/Transition/Finish area at John Ruskin School, Coniston

Last season I had biked first, then run.  Time to go back to run first then bike.  The theory being no matter how tired I am I can bike faster than I can run and if all else fails I would be able to walk and push the bike. Last seasons experiment hadn’t done anything to convince me biking first was a better bet.

The first job on collecting the map for me is to try and come up with a possible run and bike strategy, its a rough sketch of a plan as the control points values are not given to you until you cross the start line and the clock is ticking. This map revealed a few controls along the lake shore, meaning a good flat run, that appeals to me as it gets me warmed up and the blood pumping rather than straight over the line and uphill – which any where north of the Start line would be, so subject to points values, I would be heading south first.  The bike was more complex with some fast roads in and out of Coniston and a big hill or two in either direction I decided it was an anti or clockwise choice, involving the quarries or not subject to how many points were available.

Ready to go.

I started at 9.21 by my watch, meaning I had to be back for 14.21, I knelt down on some dryish looking tarmac to mark up the map…clock ticking.  My plan was sound for the run, the bike bit was looking like skipping the quarries and heading east first. I would reflect more on that later.  So I tore off at a good pace heading toward Coniston Hall and the water. With three controls bagged in the first 25 minutes I was feeling good and the conditions although intermittently slippy (wearing my usual roclite 280’s) it was definitely runnable.  Sub zero and crisp – a beautiful morning!  I try to bag points against time and scoring something every fifteen minutes is my usual aim, I was well on plan… but maybe I paused and took one too many pictures..?  Still part of doing this is all about appreciating where I am. Well it is for me anyway!

Torver Common Woods

The real uphill began at Little Arrow, a path I know well and my aim was Walna Scar Road to pick up the furthest westerly controls before heading back to Transition, bagging a few more on the way. Its been a while since I last ran in snow and it definitely hit my pace, but by now I was just beaming, I love running being out in conditions like this.

Looking north to the Old Man of Coniston

The Walna Scar Road was a mix of runnable compact snow and icy patches easily avoided. I knew it was time to start heading in once I had bagged 34 on Torver Bridge, but a part of me was thinking its cracking out here, should I just complete the run course and get all the points (250) and give myself only a short bike?  But no, I bailed out of that thought process as there are 350 points available on the bike so I picked up the controls close to the main track on my way back in (32&30). I did take a tumble on the hill into town, some black ice caught me out, but in true fell running style I bounced back up, although as I type this my elbow is still bloody sore!

The furthest west control worth a meagre 10 points…looks pretty though.

At transition I prepared to bike and whilst slurping on some soup and scoffing a scotch egg (the food of champions) I nailed my bike plan down to east first toward Hawkshead and then north toward Skelwith. I knew most of these tracks and roads so figured with an unknown quantity of ice on the roads I would manage that better on familiar territory.  The plan started with control 16, worth a bold 30 points…… which wasn’t where it was marked on the map. I expected the way mark with control on it no more than a couple of hundred metres from the buildings, yet I reached my catching feature (a sharp bend in the track with no control.  I stopped and checked the map again, measuring for accuracy… I knew where I was for sure, but no control.  I noticed a marshal on the course – very rare to see one of those on these events…”so where is it then?” I asked, “a bit further up” was the reply, so I carried on and sure enough another few hundred metres up the track there was a marshal holding control 16 in his hand, “its in the wrong place then eh?” I offered, “yes, we are thinking of moving it” came the reply.  “I would” -beep-“cheers!”. In the seven years I have been doing these events I think is the first time a control has been marked on the map wrong/placed wrong (depending upon how you look at it).  No big issue, It cost me maybe three or four minutes or so maximum.  Onward!

The next few controls were where I expected them to be, so things were going well. Really well to be honest and I started thinking this could be a really good day following on from a great run, a fun bike trip and then a possible good score (350+ ish I reckoned) to boot!  I got to control 11 with my plan being to head up and over to 10 before hitting Hodge Close and then the fast track back to town. I had an hour to play with and felt confident of squeezing it all in time. I then looked at the on the ground conditions – boggy icy hell it looked like, up a steepening hill, a theory supported by the chap coming down, who suggested it was like that all the way up, I would be managing a slow trudge at best, so I decided to drop control 10 (worth 20pts) and pile down to Yewfield and go over Tarn Hows to pick up the main road, control 14&15 and then in to the finish, if I got there sharp I could possibly get the 20 pointer at Hodge Close there and back. Head down and peddle!

Tarn Hows looking lovely. Picture by James Kirby.

It was looking like a good plan right up to to the point I got to the parking place at Tarn Hows.  The road down the hill on the other side was sheet ice and looked and felt treacherous. I stayed on my bike, but images of a fast descent froze in the winter sun and I trickled down the tarmac hill painfully slowly. I got to 14 knowing I was going to have to drop the 20 pointer at Hodge Close, but I had time (about 15 minutes) to get back in the five hours,so I set off at a pace to be proud of 4 hours 45 minutes into the event and was buzzing right up to the puncture!  My first ever competitive puncture!  ARRGGGHH! I reckoned I had just under 2km to go and a control to find. I think I got the hole dodging some kids on the track out for a walk, I am sure I went over a bramble branch and that’s what got me (as I write this I have yet to repair it…). My thought process was this, put a new inner tube in and peddle back, having got really cold (hands especially) and be late in or just run the bike back in, be late – but stay warm.  Well, warm won out so I started trotting… Thank you to all those who inquired if I was okay..”yep, just a puncture” was the often repeated reply, I got 15 (worth 30 points) with three minutes to spare and I eventually crossed the finish line seven minutes over time. Bugger!  The points loss, coupled with the forty points I  Left on the course left me with a disappointing 314 after penalties, well down the field.

Whilst chatting to other competitors (Steve and Andy) it turned out I wasn’t the only one who  had considered having a long run and shorter bike – they had executed that plan and done really well on it scoring 370 each!  Next time I might give that plan some more serious thought, I would say I am a better runner than MTB’er. Having scanned the results there were some big scores which seemed run heavy/bike light. Perhaps I missed a trick there.

Irrespective of a disappointing result  I had a fantastic day, the course planners did a great job offering some testing route choices and well positioned controls.  Roll on Edale in February!

The ROC Mountain Marathon 23rd&24th September 2017

Confidence was high approaching this Mountain Marathon. Following the (still) amazing result at the OMM Lite a few weeks ago, described here, I was well up for the ROC, formerly the RAB. This event has changed quite a bit over recent years as the new owners (Ourea Events) seek to leave their mark.  What attracts me to this event is that you can compete as a solo. Most MM’s are aimed at teams of two, so this one is a real novelty.  This would be my 6th RAB/ROC.

Since the OMM Lite, I had kept  my running to a minimum, wanting to be rested for the ROC and had decided that my regular Tuesday CleM runs (about 10-13km per evening) and one other 10km run the weekend between would be enough to ‘turn my legs over’. the Tuesday before the weekend I went off for the usual session BUT with new Mudclaws on.  Fresh out of the box, I wanted to bring these in to circulation as the RAB previously has finished shoes off – and I mean absolutely trashed them, so I thought I would be ahead of the curve and get some km’s on some new shoes, leaving my regular pair ready for the weekend.  That was mistake number one!  I have worn classic Innov-8 Mudclaw 300’s for the past x many years, I have had well over ten pairs, same brand, model and for the last three pairs same colour and probably even the same batch, as I bought a job lot from Pete Bland Sports in a sale.  This was the last pair from that batch – why would they be any different?  Clearly they were and for whatever reason, this pair gave me a hot spot on my left heel two km’s in to the run and by km three I knew I had a blister…  I stopped, had a look and thought with a bit of re lacing I could get back to the van/pub at a slow trot.  Wrong. Within 500m I had bent the back of the heel down and was running gingerly as I was now wearing the equivalent of fell running Crocs…. (a gap in the market may be?)  I left the group and made my way back to the pub.

The blister,from the Tuesday evening run. Picture taken on the Thursday evening before the ROC weekend.

I am pretty good at managing and treating blisters, learnt over many years walking, running, first aiding on running events and reading many articles/books etc, particularly  “Fixing Your Feet” by Jon Vonhof (well worth purchasing – here) so I was confident I could get to a point where I could trot round the ROC, I may not get the result I was hoping for, but still, I would be there… with expectations suitably lowered.

The ROC arrived, or rather I arrived in South West Cumbria, in the shadow of Black Combe, near Millom and I was ready to start and collect my map and control sheet.  The premise behind a “score” event is you have a time (6 hours day one, 5 hours day two for the ROC) to find as many controls as you can over a given area. You get the details at the start line and it is part of the challenge to formulate a plan/route that allows you to collect as many controls on your electronic dibber as you can and get back to where you need to be  – in this event an overnight camp- before the time runs out and you start to lose points by way of penalties.  I have lost all my day one points before on these events… gutting to say the least!

Mistake number 2 then was a real school boy error. somehow in my haste I marked up the map incorrectly and gave a control a points value when it wasn’t in fact live that day – or indeed in use at any point over the weekend!  This tipped my route choice into a direction I otherwise wouldn’t have taken.  I realised my error as I was charging along to what I thought was the first control. I reached for the control description, expecting to see something like “stream source” or “spring” looking at how the map was marked but what I found was nothing. Control 210 wasn’t even on the live list, so why and how I had given it a value of 10 points was beyond me.  I quickly checked the others I had marked…. all fine. Phew!  Not for the mad house yet then… but that took up more precious time. Oh well, I will carry on, I will lose more time if I head back and take an alternative route from the start, the next control about a km away, was in my plan anyway, I’m just down a few points than I had expected.

It was at this point that the cloud came in.

The weather forecast for Saturday was clear, overcast, but not raining and clear visibility on the tops.  By 10.30 am the cloud base was down to about 400 m, it was very damp in the air and any chance at a view was lost.

Famous Lakeland scenic vista.

Now I am a good navigator and back myself in poor conditions like this, but with a scrambled brain from trying to understand why I had made a control up, sore heel and still cursing myself for starting so poorly my relocation took longer than it should have, with the added pressure being against the clock brings I was getting decidedly cranky! Several expletives may well have passed my lips, much to the amusement of the ever present Herdwick Sheep on Black Combe. Rumours I asked ‘lost’ fell runners still on the hill from the 2016 championships held here are unfounded.

I got there in the end- the next control a 20 point one loomed out of the mist.  The game was on!  I tore off north east following a trod heading gently down I was certain about my location and where to head next and the terrain was very runnable.  This would still rank as my worst start ever – 2 hours in and only 20 points!  I then came across three other competitors, a solo male and a male pair, all studying their maps and with compass in hand. They didn’t know where they were with any great conviction, so I advised them accordingly. “We’re here mate”, much gratitude was expressed and the pair carried on their way, the solo – a chap named Dan on his first MM asked to team up for a while.  Sure, with no view, conversation would be good for the next few km’s!

“OS Trig Pillar” control description

Dan was clearly a better runner than I and as we got lower down and the visibility improved he sped off to follow his own plan.

From here on in I was navigating to my usual standard and hitting controls exactly where I expected them to be.  I still get a massive buzz from that, but essentially the damage was done.  The poor tactics, dodgy heel and slower going in the clagg meant I was in damage limitation mode and the main objective was to get back to camp without incurring penalties, which I was able to do and got back in with a meagre 200 points and four minutes to spare.  My plan had seen me get somewhere between 270 and 300 which would have left me comfortably mid table at half way, instead I was languishing in the bottom 20 or so 90 something out of 113.

But tomorrow was another day!

Overnight camp. Mine is the green tent to the left
Overnight camp. Mine is the green tent on the left…

Day two and the weather was much improved.

Sunrise, early in the morning, making all the runners look around…

Feeling good and less achy than I usually feel on day two of these things and with a heel blister that hadn’t got any worse I was raring to go and at 8.13 am I dibbed out of camp to head back via as many controls as I could in a bid to make amends for the previous days woes.

And oh what a day.  Stunning conditions, runnable, although wet ground and with clear visibility.  It was like running a different event, my route choice saw me tackle some controls I had visited the previous day (all correctly marked up this time!) but the views were stunning, with Eskdale and the Scafell Massif to the north and the Irish Sea and coast to the south and west it was a view to inspire.

The going was good and I was pleased with my lines and nav to the controls.  We were all wearing GPS trackers supplied by Open Tracking (part of the Open Adventure team) and being able to review the routes you took is an excellent feature of the ROC -one I hope they continue to maintain.  You can see my day one and two routes with each click search for my name or “303”.

By two hours in from the five I had about 120 points… a much better haul!  My day two total was 300, which placed me 53rd on the day from the 113 that started – which is where I usually am, mid pack, but because of day one’s error and conditions I finished overall in a disappointing 75th.  The heel is now healing nicely and although somewhere between uncomfortable and painful did not get any worse which was pleasing.  Just as well as I am DofEing this weekend for Sam Sykes Ltd down south so will be on my feet all weekend.

I almost wish I was competing at this year’s OMM… I’m gonna have to wait till 2018 for my next Mountain Marathon fix… Still, the adventure racing season is almost upon us!

This short video captures the 2017 ROC nicely I think.


For those interested Kit wise I used:

OMM 3/4 length leggings, TNF boxers, Injinji socks ( a pair for each day), and a Berghaus LS tech tee. I wore a Haglofs windproof gillet also as main kit with an Innov 8 cap on top.

I had a Montane Minimus smock and over trousers, both worn at camp. Also a Montane fleece jacket thing – very light and a Rab micro down jacket and New Balance full length running tights and a Montane beanie hat all worn at the over night camp and meeting mandatory kit requirements. Gloves (Aldi Merino ones) and a buff (race swag) were carried but not worn.  I ran in Mudclaws – the classic 300s with the proper 10mm lugs – a well worn in pair!

I slept in a PHD bespoke down sleeping bag, with a silk liner on a 3/4 Thermarest Neo Air mattress which has a slow puncture despite multiple repairs, it takes all night to go down, so it kinda works. Tent wise it is a TerraNova Laser Photon 1, with a foil blanket as a foot print to protect the floor.  I use Alpkit titanium pegs rather than the tooth picks the tent comes with.  I cooked on an Optimus Crux Lite stove and used a 650ml Evernew pan and 300ml cup (titanium)- it all sits together with an aluminium wind shield (home made). I used a 3 litre Nalgene ‘canteen’ for water capture at the camp and on the hill i used a 750ml SIS bottle – filled as a I passed suitable water sources. Food wise I used two small zip lock bags of trail mix, one for each day (Peanut M&M’s jelly babies, cereal bars cut into thirds and malt loaf) plus a couple of gels (SIS) and a Peperami and a Babybel cheese or two. Over night I used a mug shot and some Extreme Adventure Food (dehydrated beef stogganof – disapointing it was..), with a few handfuls of salted peanuts to finish the job of refueling off. (oh and maybe a small whisky to go with them nuts…) two tea bags, two lemon and ginger tea bags and a small serving of coffee for the morning and a porridge pot for breakfast.

My first aid kit got boosted and I deliberately took a 50g tube of Sudacream and some dressings, relifix tape and moleskin to dress and protect the blister. This worked really well. The other stuff that’s in there didn’t get used.

All this was carried in 2 dry bags and an OMM Jirishanca rucsack (35l I think – but it never seems big enough for that number, this is an old one – 7-8 years maybe, not sure they make them anymore.). A few extra bits like contact lenses, specs, a small MUVI Camera (poor mans GoPro!), Smidge and a small ‘swiss army card’, lighter, gas cannister partially used one weighted in at 200g and titanium long handled spork thing (Alpkit again). Despite carrying a tent and sleeping bag you are supposed to carry an emergency bivi as well. I took a SOL Emergency Bivi cause its tiny and light. I took an Alpkit headtorch, whistle, red and black sharpies for map marking on each day, my phone (off) in a sealed bag as it is GPS enabled. I have a small PAYG hill phone, but discovered it wasn’t working to late to do anything about it which is a shame as its very light an weighs next to nothing where as my Phone is a Samsung Edge brick type thing….   All of this kit is well tried and tested – no issues with any of it! I think that’s all the stuff I hauled about, oh two Warburtons bread bags for my feet at camp.

It weighed about 9kg at the start before water and was 7.5kg on the Sunday before water but including all my rubbish, which we quite rightly have to carry out.

midway camp, waiting for the kettle to boil, detritus all around!

Heavy for this sort of event – the elites would be running with between 4 and 6 kg’s.  Personally I prefer a bit of comfort these days so as long as its around 9kg starting weight its good enough for me. I camped next to a competitor who finished in the top ten – she was a tougher nut than I! With a real lightweight purist approach to her kit… may be one day eh?

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!!!
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.

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)