Thursday, 26 November 2009

Dunnerdale Fell Race + Vasque Runfurther end-of-year party. 14/11/2009

I’m now back after a good dose of flu, probably caught as I mixed and mingled at Broughton Mills, LakesRunner in Ambleside and Wilf’s Café in Staveley. It was a busy day and this is my belated report all about it.

Dunnerdale Fell Race / 5mi. / 1,554'.

The rain had poured and the wind had blown well into Saturday as I drove northwards through flooded roads to my first ever short, sharp and furious fell race. Dunnerdale had been suggested as the ideal precursor to an evening’s drinking and entertainment. I seized the opportunity and dusted off my ancient Adidas Swoop Mk1s with their worn down studs.

Situated in the far south west of the Lake District, Broughton Mills Village Hall, circa 1927, ancient, wooden and dimly lit by 40W bulbs, was soon heaving to the largest ever turn-out for the Dunnerdale Fell Race as runners sheltered inside to await the cessation of the rain and the 12:00 race start. The rain did stop, and we were sufficiently close to the centre of the storm system for winds to be calm.

As midday approached, we gathered outside on the lane. We were edged back up the road outside the pub, further up from the village hall. There would be no route shortening. The unprecedented crowd meant that we were slightly late setting off. I was in my rightful place towards the back, so the first I knew that the 276 runners were on their way was when the people in front started to move. We had a sedate walking start. I never imagined that on a fell race.

The field soon thinned out and I was overtaking other runners on the brief stretch of downhill road before it became uphill road, then track, then fell. I knew that I could force my pace throughout, since it was only 5 miles and I did not have to worry about the inevitable blow-up and slow-down that would normally be an issue. And so it was that I actually found myself running uphill as well as down. Only the steepest ups forced the shuffle briefly down to a walk.

The anticlockwise route took us via 4 peaks and through 1,554 feet of ascent/descent through its 5 miles. I had my 1:12,500 map print-out with me but it remained in my bumbag for two reasons:
1. I had virtually memorised the route as I had reviewed it over and over again in nervous excitement during the previous week.
2. There were so many people out in front, the views were so clear and the route through the mud was that well trodden, it would have been impossible to get lost anyway.

I pushed up and down the hills and put in as much effort as I have ever done. My steep and slippery descents were less confident than I would have liked as my worn fell shoe studs tore perilously at the soggy ground and I descended, barely in control, with the sound of other runners close behind. I didn’t want to get in the way and hold them up. On the verge of wiping out I was wishing for new fell shoes.

I got overtaken a little, but not too much, on the steep descents. Once onto the final road stretch I pushed as hard as my body allowed as we climbed back up to the finish in the farmer’s field, where I queued for a minute before the timekeepers were ready to register my arrival. I had taken one hour by my watch to do the 5 miles. My flat-out effort got me the expected bottom half finish and resulted in an average heart rate of 176bpm and a peak of 191bpm. The winning time was an unbelievable 39:36. I wonder how fast his heart rate was.

The meat and potato pie, tea and biscuits went down a real treat as I chatted with other runners in the hall afterwards. The queue for the food ended up stretching the length of the hall. I was glad I got in there early.

Fed, watered and warmed, I drove via Coniston (memories of the Lakeland 100) round to Ambleside, where a visit to Ian Barnes’ LakesRunner shop was long overdue. It was popular with the Runfurther crowd – Andy Rankin and Paul Dickens were there, so more chinwagging took place; oh, and try on a pair of La Sportiva Crosslight shoes. Such unaccustomed comfort in a shoe, but they didn’t quite have my size so I placed an order.

A new café is in creation upstairs, which should be really good. Proprietor and rather capable fell runner Ben Abdelnoor will have his work cut out keeping the appetites of all those climbers and runners satiated. He and Ian have already had their work cut out building it, by all accounts.

Here are some statistics to demonstrate the intensity of short fell races:
Distance - 5 miles.
Time - 1 hour.
Average heart rate - 176bpm.
Maximum heart rate - 191bpm.

Vasque Runfurther party.

I drove further round to Staveley and my B & B on the hillside overlooking the village, where I had plenty of time to get cleaned up for the main event – the Vasque Runfurther end-of-year celebration. It was conveniently located a short walk away in Wilf’s Café at the Hawkshead Brewery. A hotpot supper and dessert, a well-stocked bar and a MASSIVE Vasque Runfurther cake kept us well fuelled until past midnight.

Two talks with slideshows were put on.

The first by Stuart Walker described his British Isles Challenge, a daunting solo, 1,400-mile human-powered journey from one end of the British Isles to the other (including sea crossings and 3-peaks climbing). He only had 4 weeks to complete it and he was greatly challenged along the way. What he achieved against adversity was little short of heroic. He did it for charity and, most unfairly, he is still quite a way short of his £10,000 target. So please, anyone reading this, if you are so minded, please consider making a donation. His chosen charities surely deserve it after he sacrificed so much.

The second talk was a hot and cold talk given by Amanda and Andy Heading. For the hot talk, Amanda described her Marathon des Sables experience, while for the cold talk, Andy described his Yukon Arctic Ultra experience – 430 miles in north west Canada in the frozen depths of winter.

The evening was topped off with the prize-giving and spot prize draw, and cake. There was lots of swag to give away from our sponsors. Andy Rankin and Rachael Lawrance won the prizes for the most series points out of their four best races, while Tim Whittaker and Julie Gardner won the prizes for the most points overall. There were four Grand Slammers – runners who completed all twelve races. In order of points they were Tim Whittaker, Paul Dickens, Julie Gardner and me. The final results can be found here.

I washed down a large slab of cake with a large brandy, the clock struck 12 and the evening drew to a close. With several wrong turns I eventually found my way by torch light back up the hill to the B & B, where I dreamed of a most enjoyable running year and a Grand Slam that most nearly wasn’t.

I took some pictures of the evening’s proceedings. That cake must have weighed a ton.


  1. Inspired me to get on with what looks to be a very wet - very cold lunchtime hill run Nick - I'd better get on with it!

  2. I hope you didn't get washed away Steve. There was some heavy stuff around that time.