At the British Fell & Hill Championship Relay nothing is easy. I’ve long since avoided judging a fell race by the overall distance. You learn this quickly. Foolish to even gauge the difficulty based on the total ascent. Sometimes the two – combined with terrain and weather – are more difficult than expected. So, as a late replacement in the six man team, I was a little apprehensive.
Pendle Hill was the controversial venue choice. Restricted numbers resulted in no entries for mixed teams and some age categories. For many clubs, like mine, this meant exclusion for some really good quality women runners. A big loss to the event. And not the egalitarian characteristics of the discipline.
The event is a relatively simple format: 4 legs comprising a solo, pair, navigational pair and then the final solo. Each leg is different. Distances vary, but broadly between 6-10miles. The climbs are severe, sometimes brutal. I was invited to bring home the glory, waiting for others before completing leg 4. A good opportunity to watch the fast and nimble go out and return. Indeed, Calder Valley, Dark Peak and the Lakeland clubs all came and went with much fanfare and even more speed. I simply stood by to hold tops for club mates, as they waited for handovers. It was cold and grey but visibility way up to Pendle Hill was great.
As my departure neared the race field, understandably, became more stretched. Large intervals appeared between teams. I realised that some navigation may be needed. I needn’t have worried. Route finding was unnecessary as – between checkpoints – the leg was well taped and marked.
I was more concerned that there’d be nobody to follow and, more importantly, no target to chase. Soon, I was shuffling up and over grassy tufts with two runners in sight. I soon passed a woman in a white vest. The distinctive claret and gold of neighbours Pudsey & Bramley was next. Steady inclines were soon replaced by steeper hills. I made little of the distance deficit. I did however soon pass another male, vets runner. Then continuing on the long slog up to the trig point of the Big End.
On nearing the summit I sensed runners approaching from behind. A small group of runners bolted passed, led strongly by Bingley Harriers’ super-fast Victoria Wilkinson. They were likely the elites starting out from the mass start. I think only one other runner passed me. I soon passed P&B’s Sarah Rowell, while we both focused on the free-fall from the Big End. She then crept passed me on the next climb. I again overtook on the long, final descent.
Fast, furious and all over in blink. I’d actually been out for just under an hour. I finished strongly and managed another two overtakes in the final mile. My legs were full of marathon training, though. The event had reminded me, if nothing else, that I needed to get lots of hill reps before the Tour of Pendle. Clayton-le-Moors, as host club, took much criticism over the change in eligibility. Aside from this, the event was well organised, the race routes were designed to test and try, and I really enjoyed the overall atmosphere. The event also provided me with an unexpected opportunity to briefly race to the top with top.