Talk about from the sublime to the ridiculous. If it's not 106 miles it's 1.1 miles. My new-found taste for pushing the pace a bit saw me toe the line yesterday at this little beauty, the shortest fell race in the FRA calendar. It started from the footbridge over the railway in Chinley and climbed to the trig point on private land at Chinley Churn. It had a twist as well because it adopted a time trial format, where runners were set off at 1-minute intervals. The first one set off at 11:00. My turn was 11:25. There were 33 runners registered out of a possible 60. A second twist was that we had to guess our finishing time. The closest guess would win a prize. I had no idea what to expect. I guessed 14:40, then feared I'd been rather ambitious. To avoid cheating, we either had to surrender our watches or stick tape over the face. I chose the latter, since it was my heart rate monitor and I wanted its recording.
Rain had been threatening for a while and was increasing, driven on a healthy breeze, by the time I was counted down and set off over the bridge, left up the steps and right round the corner into the trees and out of sight. Phew. My already breathless slowdown could now go unnoticed. I ran as best I could up the grassy slope, following the line of orange flags to the lane at the top. I hoisted myself through the stone stile, grateful for having two free hands for once instead of the obligatery handheld bottles that are a permanent fixture during any other event.
A right and quick left up Over Hill Road brought a few hundred yards of tarmac, offering the opportunity to cover maximum ground for the effort expended. Some of the earlier starters were trotting back down. I felt an added frisson of excitement from the quarry/prey feeling given by the time trial format. I was already catching the previous runner in front. I wanted to catch as many as possible and get caught by as few as possible. For once I could push myself to the limit without fear of blowing up because I did not have to save myself for the next few hours. Unlike my normal ultra running, where I can hold a comfortable conversation, now I was struggling just to breathe, with lungs burning. Now I know the meaning of the phrase "Lungbuster". I never get to 'enjoy' its sensation normally.
Soon it was a right turn up to another stile and onto the footpath towards Cracken Edge. This follows an old quarry railway incline. It is steep, so it would have been no ordinary railway. I overtook my first runner here and gasped a couple of words of encouragement. At the first wall we were directed left off-path up a vertical grassy fell, guided by another line of orange flags. It was a hands and feet job. I soon realised I had the wrong shoes. My general purpose trail shoes slipped badly on the wet grass and wasted my efforts.
I was wearing a cap to keep the worst of the rain off my glasses. This meant that my eyes were shielded from the line of flags above me as I climbed. Brief stops and glimpses upwards were eventually not enough. As I got caught by the runner behind me we both realised that the line of flags was turning right and wasn't continuing vertically upwards. Great, we could both run again as we contoured instead for a few yards.
The climb continued less steeply over fields. I was catching my second runner. I had to walk for a few more seconds before trying to run again and eventually I overtook him. Suddenly I had the third runner in my sights as we joined a vehicle trail that climbed the field and turned left to climb to the trig point from the back. I closed in and just about caught him at the finish. I was so exhausted I forgot to stop my stopwatch for a while. I grabbed a cup of water from the support vehicle and sheltered from the wind and rain behind the open door to put on my windproof top for the run back down, which I took fast to keep warm.
After this nice little exertion, most of us went to the Chinley Community Hall for homemade tea and cakes. The Village Fete was just getting started. We reminisced on the short sharp shock we'd just experienced to the strains of Abba over the PA as the rain stopped. I eventually got around to peeling the tape off my watch. I was almost a minute faster than my prediction. I reckon something around 13:50, subject to official confirmation.
If I'm free this time next year I'll be back, with a better time prediction based on experience rather than a wild guess.
My official time was 13:47. It's also possible that next year could alternate to a downhill race with a start at the top instead. Up to last year that would have delighted me but now the prospect fills me with dread.