I had nearly an hour to register, chat and keep warm in the Bull's Head pub. It was good to meet Ian Winterburn and Will Meredith once again. By the time we ventured outside for the 11am start, it actually wasn't raining! I was chatting with Percy, who had only found out about this race yesterday. This was his first race. I was impressed by his keenness for turning out on such a day. I couldn't give him any advice because I was also new to this race.
The turn-out of 168 was particularly impressive, given the weather conditions. It had rained all night (for most of the weekend in fact) and the forecast for today was bad. It was turning to sleet, hail and snow as the weekend progressed. People who had travelled over the Woodhead Pass had to negotiate wet snow on the road.
The 5 mile (approx) route was well marked and marshalled and ideal for first-timers. As most of it was on tracks and paths (most of them swilling with liquid mud today) with only a short off-path section for the hands-and-feet climb to the top of Lees Hill, it was more runnable than usual. The addition of the obligatory ups and downs made it a right lung buster (but aren't they all?).
I never cease to be impressed by the speed and fitness of the faster runners in these fell races. The leaders sprinted off up the track from the start, while I settled into my usual survival jog with a steady stream of other runners gradually overtaking. I was breathing hard and could not have gone any faster. It wasn't long before Percy caught up with me on an early climb and pulled ahead a little, but as soon as the gradient eased downwards again, I let gravity do its thing while my legs maximised the effect by braking a little here and pushing a lot there. I made up some places.
On the climb of Lees Hill I was detecting a rapid reduction in light levels. At the highest point of the course, the hail started to fall. This didn't bother me because hail bounces off without wetting you. It soon turned to rain though, and continued in that vein until the finish.
The second half of the route is not all downhill by any means. There are plenty of ups as well as sharp turns, always with a marshal to point the way. It was alright for us because we were running to keep warm. They were standing to get cold. Thank you marshals for your sacrifice on our behalf.
I was mostly holding my own in the second half, with one or two catching me and me re-overtaking or catching one or two others. Percy was still somewhere behind but I had no idea whereabouts. I could only hear anonymous pursuers near and not so near by their heavy footsteps splattering in the muddy puddles or their laboured breathing hissing through their teeth.
By the final run back down Arnfield Lane to the finish I was giving it all I had but I seemed to be moving so slowly considering the runnable downhill cobbles that were now passing beneath my feet. I'd given my all out on the course and now I had little left to give on what should have been an easy downhill sprint to the line. It felt like those dreams I used to have where I am trying to run but making no progress, as if running through treacle. The effort had left my legs feeling weak and clumsy. I felt as though I was bumbling haphazardly to the finish barely in control. For some time I had been hearing footsteps and heavy breathing from several pursuers. Now they were getting closer. I pushed a bit harder to hold them off and hoped it would be enough. I just about made it to the line before turning around and seeing Percy right there behind me. Give it 10 more yards and he would have had me. Well run Percy. You'll surely beat me next time.
The Bull's Head was crammed and buzzing afterwards as tea and cake or beer and chips were consumed. This is the small room:
There was a bring-a-cake competition for post-race sustenance. I gawped in wonderment at the creations by runners and their other halfs. Mmmmm, cake:
During the prize presentation the pub dog raced backwards and forwards barking loudly every time a round of applause went up. Many thanks to nblg for putting on such a well organised run and getting the results out so quickly. What a slick operation you run.
I was happy to finish more comfortably inside the top half than ever before in a short sharp fell race.