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.