Borrowdale Fell Race 2016

Beautiful Rosthwaite

Beautiful Rosthwaite – The start and finish of Borrowdale Fell Race

Borrowdale is my third and final of the Lakeland Classic series of fell races for this year.  I had previously completed the Ennerdale Horseshoe and Wasdale Fell Race within the last couple of months (links here to my blogs on those races).

I was hoping for a more enjoyable run at Borrowdale given what had happened at the previous two.  This year, Borrowdale was one of the six races that made up the 2016 English Fell Running Championship, in which to qualify you need to do several of the races and include at least one of the two ‘long’ races – either Borrowdale or the slightly shorter Langdale in October.

Where did it all go right?

I crossed the finish line exhausted and collapsed into a heap, regained composure enough to get a small plastic cup of orange cordial and promptly collapsed again.  I knew I had missed my time from last year by a little but my pre-race hope was that I would actually knock off a bit too and finish sub 3:45:00.  Up until the last half mile of flat country lane to the finish I had felt good.  Strong even.  Since Honister Pass at check point 6 I had passed no fewer than seven other runners while climbing and then descending Dale Head to finish the race back in Rosthwaite.

Start and Finish Sign

At this point last year I was struggling in a big way.  I had attacked Great Gable and it had broken me and cast me out the other side in pieces, losing time and places to those around me.  Unable to keep up, my recollection is one of some tough miles down to Honister Pass and from there to the finish had been hellish.

Had I run a brilliant first half last year and just over cooked it?  This year I had been steady and methodical.  A year is a long time in fell running and my experience and exposure to the difficult conditions that the Lake District can throw at you should have set me up to smash the previous year.  So how come I ran near enough the same time?  The following blog is my race analysis.

Year Finishing Position Total Starters Positional Percentage Conditions Comments
2015 69th 286 24.13% Bright & Clear
2016 102nd 384 26.56% Sunny / marginally hotter English Championship Race

Start to Bessy Boot (CP1)

2015 time 00:36:54

2016 time 00:39:32

Difference +00:02:38

Pre Race Selfie

Pre Race Selfie

I knew it got tight within about a quarter a mile of the start but I hadn’t got myself into the best starting position and before I knew it we were off.  Rather than jostle for position I thought I’d just go with the flow and enjoy the parade around the village before the race really began when I could then make some moves.  It was, however, worse than I thought with sections completely stationary while we squeezed together into the bottlenecks.

Once we started heading up towards the fell gate things got easier but in the interest of not blowing up in the first couple of miles I mainly maintained position just picking off one or two runners who had got a little giddy at the start, put in a 7 minute mile and were now huffing and puffing with almost 16 more miles to go.

As I passed the fell gate and began the brutal ascent of Bessy Boot I could see the indelible Dark Peak Fell Runners pair of Nicky Spinks and Judith Jepson not too far ahead and so long as I wasn’t losing ground on these amazing ladies I knew I was doing ok.  Last year I had followed Judith almost from the start to the screes of Scafell Pike where I passed her before she left me on Gable never to be seen again and finished almost ten minutes ahead of me.

Nicky had been my guide between Seatallon and Pillar during the bleak Wasdale fell race a month earlier and had finished that day well ahead of me but knowing that she has the UTMB coming up later this month I thought this would be a steady training run for her – if a little short!

Summary – Lost time at the start that could have been avoided if I had got a better position on the start field.  It is literally the first quarter mile where it’s worth a little exertion to get your place on the narrow path where you can relax into the race.  More runners and more frantic given it was a Championship race.

Bessy Boot (CP1) to Esk Hause (CP2)

2015 time 00:42:42

2016 time 00:43:13

Difference +00:00:32

I’d reached the summit of Bessy Boot with Judith and Nicky just ahead of me and I was feeling good.  I heeded the advice of Nicky Spinks who in her blog had said to eat within the first hour of a long run.  This was no Bob Graham Round but still I thought it best to make hay while the sun shone and had my first gel about a mile into this section.  Feeling good I continued at a good pace without really pushing myself too much as I knew what was to come.  It was here I was passed by Mark Walsh of Darwen Dashers whom I had run Snowdon Race with a few weeks prior and also Neil Armitage of P&B who I know from being local to where I live.

Almost before I knew it I was at Esk Hause and looking up towards the summit of England’s highest mountain.

Summary – Not sure where I lost the 32 seconds here.  Probably my youthful exuberance in 2015 being tempered by my experience of bonking* on long races.  I am a V40 runner now!

*Bonking – To suddenly and without warning go into complete physical and mental shut down mode with dizziness, hunger and exhaustion taking over.  This can be overcome quite quickly with intake of food or gels but is best avoided completely by constant eating throughout the race.

Esk Hause (CP2) to Scafell Pike Summit (CP3)

2015 time 00:25:01

2016 time 00:24:50

Difference -00:00:11

I had been at this very same point four weeks earlier during the Wasdale race.  On that day, in biblical conditions, I couldn’t tell where I was.  I just knew I was at the start of the climb up England’s highest peak.  There were no tourist hikers that day, not even the sheep were braving it.  Today though was Borrowdale and the next mile and a half would be a much happier experience.

I was climbing well and now passed my early pacers of Nicky and Judith and also caught and passed Neil and a bemused looking Mark.  Not bemused because I was passing him but bemused with the terrain which is not very ‘runable’ given large parts are just boulder fields of sharp jagged rocks where a misplaced foot and a slip could put you out of the race.  I however spent many a holiday in my youth scrambling about the rocks on Filey Brigg or Robin Hoods Bay beach and I think this helped me make some good route choices and good time.

Half way up I slowed to retrieve some malt loaf from my bum bag and devour it, which isn’t easy while still climbing a mountain.  A Clayton-Le-Moors runner passed me and said not to slow as he was following me and pacing himself on me.  I chatted for a moment between bites and said 01:45:00 to the top of Scalfell Pike last year had got me home in under 4 hours which I think encouraged him.  This malt loaf was not to get me up Scafell though it was my energy for Great Gable, the next climb, in around forty minutes time.

I finished my snack and had some water then picked up pace again, retaking the Clayton guy who I never saw again.

Summary – 11 seconds quicker is neither here nor there but I felt good, I was looking forward to the run down Scafell and had already eaten ahead of the next climb.

Scafell Pike Summit (CP3) to Sty Head (CP4)

2015 time 00:21:37

2016 time 00:21:48

Difference +00:00:11

Sir Isaac Newton said “What goes up must come down” and in the case of fell running this is what most of us live for.  At the summit of Scafell Pike there is barely time to look around and catch your breath and it’s off again.  There is a direct, steep, route from the summit to the Corridor Path which then takes you down to Sty Head.  This involves running down the scree*.

*Scree – loose rocks, stones and boulders of varying sizes that lay on the mountain and on each other rather then being stuck into the mountain.  When stepped upon they move downwards, taking you with them.

Not everyone’s cup of tea but I enjoy scree running.  The movement of the loose stones gives some welcome relief to your aching leg muscles and joints and as every step takes you sliding a few feet further down the mountain you can cover the ground very quickly.  Being on the side of a steep mountain running on ground that moves under your feet is not without it’s worries and you need to remain focused and committed to avoid certain death (well a fall at least).

Corridor Route

Corridor Route

Once down the scree it’s a fast run down to Sty Head which is the lowest part of the land between the Lakeland giants of Scafell Pike and Great Gable.  There is the main Corridor Path to follow or a few short cuts across the grass.  I was following a few other runners looking confident in their route choices across the grass so I mainly continued after them through to the check point.

Summary – Although I think some of the route choices were good, others were not so good and I think I could have run faster on the main path and actually lost 11 seconds to 2015 here. However I did gain 15 places so must have done something right.


Sty Head (CP4) to Great Gable Summit (CP5)

2015 time 00:24:27

2016 time 00:24:27

Difference 00:00:00

Great Gable from Corridor Route

Great Gable (right) from Corridor Route

As I’m sat writing this while watching the GB boys in the velodrome in Rio winning Gold it’s interesting that success and failure in their world is often the difference of a fraction of a second.  This is not something that usually figures in fell racing but the numbers above are not a lie and so I had climbed Great Gable in exactly the same time, to the second!

A quick drink at the bottom where I noticed Joss Naylor sat spectating along with his dog and a good number of other people at this popular spot.  I gave his dog a stroke and and looked up at what was ahead of me just as some cloud had covered the summit.  Up Gable it’s heads down, hands on thighs and grind out the steps.  It’s one mile up with just under 1500ft of climbing.  If a flight of stairs at work tires you out then think about walking up them continually for 25 minutes!

One of the runners I’d followed down Scafell Pike was a Dark Peak runner who I have since deduced to be Dave Sykes and he had taken some good lines, looking like a man in the know.  I stayed with Dave for the climb as it felt like a good pace without being too much for me. There’s not going it be any navigation errors on the way up but I knew that the line off the top of Gable was open to some interpretation and I wanted to avoid an unwanted diversion over to Brown Base or up Brandreth.

Summary – Exact same time as last year but I was in a much better place physically and gained 3 places.

Great Gable Summit (CP5) to Honister Pass (CP6)

2015 time 00:28:37

2016 time 00:29:08

Difference -00:00:31

I unashamedly followed Dave from the summit and when he shouted to a fellow Dark Peak runner ahead of us to change trajectory I felt my faith was justified.  Having looked back at my Strava Flyby the lines taken by us were very close to those of Ricky Lightfoot and Karl Gray and they did ok!

I had a bit more to eat as I was starting to feel it a bit and I knew Dale Head was still to come.  The temperature was feeling a bit higher and I knew there would be a big bucket of orange juice at the Honister check point.  As I ran through the car park of the slate quarry where there were some quite big crowds I was offered some marshmallows by GB International runner Heidi Dent which gave me a much welcome boost ahead of the last climb.

Summary – Despite feeling much better than last year and taking some better lines I managed to lose another 31 seconds to my 2015 time.

Honister Pass (CP6) to Dale Head Summit (CP7)

2015 time 00:26:31

2016 time 00:24:29

Difference +00:02:02

Another mile with 1250ft ascent and the climbing would be done for the day.  It was here that I climbed very well.  I left mountain guide Dave behind and although the next group of runners had a good few minutes head start I began to catch them, overtaking five runners on this tough section.

I was pleased at the sight of my friend Calvin Ferguson, who had come to spectate today, stood with a bag of jelly babies and a few words of encouragement.

Summary – Good work rate taking just over two minutes against my 2015 time.

Dale Head Summit (CP7) to Finish

2015 time 00:25:41

2016 time 00:24:49

Difference +00:00:52

View of the final descent into Rosthwaite

View of the final descent into Rosthwaite

The last check point was a welcome sight.  I knew there was still a slog down to the finish which would be tough but I was still feeling positive and in decent shape.  I’d passed some good runners and quite often it’s the case that they might favour descent and I might lose the places I had worked hard to gain.  It’s two and a half miles and I was now looking forward to doing something I had not done for the last three and a half hours – stopping!

The initial descent is steep and your legs let you know they are not happy about it.  You drop down to Dalehead Tarn and skirt around to the right of it.  I wanted to jump in and give my muscles the relief they craved but dismissed these thoughts and continued on.

It turns steep again as you go through an old disused slate quarry where I found myself in a race within the race between two strong women in Lucy Spain of Helm Hill Runners and Helen Berry of Holmfirth Harriers.  I knew these ladies would be high up their field and contesting for valuable Championship points so I allowed myself to get dragged into the battle with my aim to finish strong.

As the slate gave way to bracken covered slopes and the first flags appeared to guide us back I knew it was not far to go now.  I took a better line than Lucy and got ahead of her with Helen further down the slope.

Over the stile and onto the last half mile of track.  I was spent now.  I wanted to just stop and walk to the end but kept going, unable to catch Helen by managing to retain my position.

I later found out that by the time I had recovered my breath the winner, Ricky Lightfoot, had managed to get himself away and into work to start his shift in the Cumbia Fire Service!

Summary – Good strong finish and brilliant day slightly marred by me not beating last years time.  It only means I will have to come back again next year and put that right!

Thanks to Borrowdale Fell Runners and all the sponsors for putting on a brilliant race.  Thanks to all the volunteer marshals without whom these races could not take place and thanks to Borrowdale Mountain Rescue who I have never needed but, like an insurance policy, I’m thankful they are there.

Post Race kit

Gerry Springer Borrowdale Summary

It’s days like this I wish I could bottle and share with everyone, which is why I decided to start blogging.  It’s not to brag ‘look at me, aren’t I amazing’, it’s an appreciation of the world we live in, and of truly feeling alive.  The mental and physical limits of the human being, the best and worst of the elements that mother nature throws at us and the majestic beauty of the mountains, fells, lakes and tracks we engage ourselves with and travel through.  It’s Joss and his dog quietly watching, Billy and Gavin Bland milling around in Rosthwaite getting the race set up.  Running shoulder to shoulder with current GB Internationals, former heroes, upcoming stars and true legends of the sport and not feeling out of place.

Days like Borrowdale and Wasdale, The Three Peaks or The Tour of Pendle all invoke emotion and fill me with a sense of achievement and a sense of learning valuable lessons and skills not only about surviving in mountains but in how to deal with life on the whole.

Andrew Britton 22/08/2016