Wednesday, 13 September 2017

Summer racing - Firkløver trail and Ennerdale Horseshoe

Firkløver trail 

Early summer’s main event was Ennerdale Horseshoe which, with 37km and 2290m, is the longest of the classic Lake District fell races. As a bit of a warm up, I decided to run the local race in North Zealand ‘Firkløver Ultra Trail 50/50’ (FUT 50/50) the weekend before Ennerdale. The race is best known for its longer distances – 50miles or 50km – but I settled for running the 16km distance.

The day dawned very wet and I was quite pleased that I hadn’t started at 7am on the 50 miles; there was still a chance that the rain might stop before my 12.00 start. It didn’t.  But soft, mild weather so a bit of rain, albeit fairly heavy, shouldn’t really be a problem especially in the forest.

I didn’t want to go flat out just a week before Ennerdale, but a decent, manageable pace that I could keep up all the way round.  It was a nice route, mostly in the woods, but a few open stretches too. There were a couple of short sections of ‘off-trail’ across the forest floor, and a low tunnel under the railway where I was bent double going through, but otherwise easy trail running. There was a hug from one of the organisers at the finish, a beer, cake and a relaxed atmosphere – what more could one ask for. My time was 1:25:14, 17th of 77 overall and 16th of 44 men - not record breaking, but good enough for me feel that I had had a ‘good’ run.

 No photos from the race, unfortunately, so here is a photo of the race organisers - Carsten, Per Egon & Klaus

Ennerdale Horseshoe Fell race 

A week later and I was on the starting line in Ennerdale feeling far from confident. My annual Lake District camping weekend with old pals was timed this year (at my request) to fit in with the Ennerdale fell race, so we had taken the long journey to remote Ennerdale to camp at Routen farm. I had spent most of the preceding week studying the weather forecast and it hadn’t been looking promising. The previous day we had been out walking in fine weather on the first part of the race route over Great Borne, Red Pike and High Stile, but the prospect of the full route of 37km/2290m was making me decidedly nervous.

On the day the weather was every bit as bad as promised, with heavy rain and high winds. At the race briefing the organiser said that only the mild temperature had held him back from cancelling the race. Off we went, clad in waterproofs. The start followed the lakeshore path for the first kilometre or two before climbing steeply up Great Borne. We didn’t need to ascend very much before we began to feel the full force of the wind and the heavy rain started hammering on the side of my waterproof jacket. I carried on up to the first checkpoint which I reached in just under 50 minutes. This was a little worrying as I seemed to be right up against the cut-off time, which I had copied from the website onto my race map. 

As I continued on along the ridge towards the second checkpoint, I became more and more convinced that I would retire from the race. It was difficult to run in a straight line in the wind, the rain was hammering on the side of my head, and I felt in danger of being timed out. I could look forward to another 5 or 6 hours of wind and rain, visibility was very poor, and I really wasn’t enjoying it. I reached the next checkpoint and told the marshal I was retiring. He pointed me in the direction of the valley and that was it, I was out of the race.

 Once I dropped a few hundred metres, the wind eased, and suddenly it became enjoyable again despite the persistent rain. I jogged back down to the valley floor and along the lake until, eventually, I arrived back at race HQ. There, having officially retired, I chatted with some of the helpers who fed me tea and cake. I saw also that the cut-off times had been extended, I just hadn’t noticed before the start, so I needn’t have worried about that – oh well.

All in all a bit of a disappointing day on the fells, although I probably made the right decision – I’m never going to win a race, I run for the fun of it – so if I’m not enjoying it doesn’t make much sense to continue. As a bit of a consolation whilst I was drinking tea the marshals from CP1 returned. Who else than the legend himself - Joss Naylor – who won the first 8 editions of the Ennerdale race, (and probably thought I was a soft Southerner for dropping out!).

  The view back along the ridge to Red Pike on a good day (photo taken the day before the race)

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