Monday, 26 August 2013

West Witton Fell Race

I entered a fell race over the weekend - the first time I've done so for years. I think it was climbing Meall nan Tarmachan brought it on (see previous post). The West Witton Fell Race (4.1 miles, 1,116ft of climbing) involves an ascent of our local big hill - Pen Hill. (It always happens on the same evening as the local tradition of The Burning of Bartle, during the weekend of the Witton Feast. Coincidentally, my stepfather had been judging the produce there earlier).

I paid my four quid at the playing field and pinned my number to my vest. I walked to the start at the far end of the village. A small crowd of participants and onlookers were gathering there. The participants in the Senior Race were called to the line. Looking around the serious, wiry, scantily clad  people around me I had the horrible feeling that everyone would finish in minutes and the organisers would be left waiting hours for me to turn up. A few minutes later we were off up the lane that led to the edge of the fell. It's a familiar scenario to those like myself. You get odd feeling that you are running backwards as those around you pass you. But not everyone did. To my relief, a handful of us were left at the back of the field to fight it out for last place!

The first part was the hardest. The lane sloped gently upwards. On a steep part of a fell race only the most able keep running - often, most of the field are reduced to stomping up with their hands on their knees or even crawling if it gets really steep. Trouble is, on the gentler slopes you have to keep running - or get left behind. The lane ended at the edge of the fell. Ahead of us we could see the leaders moving effortlessly up the fellside to the left of Black Scar crag. All of a sudden we were threading our way through the reeds of a boggy area. Wet feet. Then the fell reared up in earnest - suddenly the ground was in front of your face. In places you just had to crawl. (It would be easy to over-dramatize this. In fact, for an enthusiastic -rather than good- runner like myself, negotiating these climbs is sometimes easier than, say, the pressure of really keeping going towards the end on a flat road when running a 10k).

At the top of Black Scar we turned East, running along the edge of the plateau. This was pretty straightforward, though broken here and there by short, boggy sections. The view from here is great. We rounded the Iron Age chieftain's grave and made for the pile of stones (pictured) at the Eastern end of the plateau. From here, the route plunged down the steep end of the hill and then down through steep fields, back to the village. In the last section there are four dry stone walls to climb over - it feels a bit like a steeplechase. I came in about half an hour after the winner - it took me just under 58 minutes (57:55). I wasn't last. A plastic cup of squash never tasted so good.

I immediately regretted not running the race before - I've lived here for nearly two decades and this was my first time. The atmosphere is great, everyone gets a finisher's medal and you can always hang around for the Burning of Bartle (West Witton's answer to The Wicker Man - minus the policeman), although I couldn't, this year. There are races for senior men, senior women plus a junior race (which was run with talent, guts and enthusiasm).

Why don't more people enter fell races? Perhaps there's a perception that it's tougher than running 10ks and half marathons. In my limited experience it isn't. And for me, the combination of the "high" one gets from running and the views and the closeness to nature makes it hard to beat. It's a shame more people don't give it a go. But then perhaps it isn't - enough people do it already to make it exciting and perhaps it's best it remains one of athletics' best kept secrets.










11 comments:

Gwil W said...

The beauty of fell running is that there are so many scenic races to choose from. They have such great names too: The Guisborough Grunt, The Exterminator, Fit as a Butcher's Dog, Steam Bunny Stomp, Lamb's Longer Leg, and Roseberry Topping just to mention a few at random from the current FRA fixtures calendar. Nowadays I tend to run mainly in Austria and Italy and on mostly uphill mountain courses finishing at the top which I'm grateful for as my knees are a lot older now than they were!

The Solitary Walker said...

Well done, Dominic! R & C

The Weaver of Grass said...

I think we can say with certainty that my fell racing days are over - not that they ever started.

Joanne Noragon said...

I could have been a fell walker in my day! Well done; lovely climbs and returns.

Gwil W said...

I can highly recommend Richard Askwith's book 'Feet in the Clouds" to anybody thinking of taking up fell running. The book comes with a WARNING: The activities described in this book are dangerous and may result in injury or death. Don't try them. Go to a gym instead, or stay at home and watch television.

Rachel Fenton said...

Good for you, Dominic - great achievement!

Dominic Rivron said...

Thanks for these comments, everyone!

A Cuban In London said...

This is one of those events I've sometimes heard of in The Guardian's Country Diary and which I wouldn't mind doing myself. Well done to you. I hope you had a ball, too. :-)

Greetings from London.

tony said...

Well Done Sir!One of these days I will join you.& what a beautiful place to travel through!

GOAT said...

Nice work, Dominic. It's funny, a lot of hikers I know, especially the American ones, are getting into half-marathons and other forms of running these days. A good way to stay in shape when off-trail, I suppose. I have a feeling hard surfaces would murder what remains of my knees - maybe your variety would be a little kinder, and definitely a lot more scenic.

Jenny Woolf said...

A nice description of what you get out of running. Never in all my life did I get that feeling from running, though, which is sad. I wish it had been different for me.