Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Kinder Downfall Fell Race

Phew. My third fell race in eight days - the first being the Mini Mountain Marathon around the Hope Valley last Sunday, then the local mid-week race on Wednesday night, Herod Farm.

Sunday, the day of Kinder Downfall fell race, dawned early for me. I was awake from 5.30am, feeling very refreshed with only 6 hours sleep - it's only about an hour or so less than a normal night for me so no bother. First breakfast consumed with a coffee then feeling a bit snoozy I lay on the sofa and drifted off for 30 minutes. Nice. Second breakfast and another coffee and I feel ready.

Before I know it we're on our way to Hayfield, in a torrential downpour. Not the most promising of weather to be heading up onto Kinder - the high wilderness of bogdom. The usual registration and socialising comes and goes, then it's a soggy jog to the start area. People are huddled in doorways, under trees and umbrellas - scrambling to keep as dry and warm as possible. There's chat about whether to start with waterproof tops on or off, on or off....I can't decide so go for a short run up the road to gauge my temperature. It's top off for me - I'll put up with some dampness as I'll be hot on the ascent up William Clough before too long.

The race organiser gives us a delightful speech and then his son gave us our starting orders. I shuffled into the starting bunch from where I'd been sheltering....the thing was, this left me at the front of the pack!! Oh well, not to worry. I was pulled back slightly by my mini mountain marathon partner who I was going to attempt to keep up with, then we're off. I was passed by many runners on the road up to the Snake Path...not surprising, I was not one of the fast ones. My pace is good up the tarmac, but I was careful not to go too fast or I'd blow up before White Cabin.

The first ascent up Snake Path
Linds is just ahead so my aim is to stick with her as long as possible. Andrea was initially behind me but soon went ahead. Up to White Cabin and then the narrow trod across the heather, traversing round - no place to overtake on that section.

The field is now a long drawn out string of runners. It's quite mesmerising following the feet of the runner in front. At this point I feel like I could run faster, and perhaps this was my only mistake - I should have pushed myself a bit harder on the final approach to the trod, overtaken a few runners to gain a few places. I can see Andrea up ahead, seven runners separate us.Not bad going I tell myself, she's still within reach.

Soon enough the descent to Kinder Reservoir is before me and the marshalls confuse me. I don't catch what they are saying to the runners, but they're pointing as though they want us to take the higher path, rather than where we've been told and know is the race route straight down. I'm slowed a little in heading across, then hear them more clearly - "take any route down"! Great, now I'm into the heather stuff which I hate running down. I traverse down and right to rejoin the path, while its muddy and slippy it is preferable to me for this short sharp descent. Marshal Carl shouts encouraging words as I turn left up the clough. I recced up here recently so know the distance - it's quite a way up to the top so I knew I needed to push, but not blow up.

I stay on the heels of a female runner for quite a while and we seem to be pulling away from whoever is behind us. It would have been very easy to let her slip away but I dig in and stick with her. Apologies if it felt like I was breathing down your neck...I was, but essentially it was the only way I could keep pushing up, the only way to force myself to ignore my wanting-to-stop-and-rest legs.

After a while my fellow Glossopdale runner Neil came into view. I'd battled with him on Wednesday evening up Herod Farm and knew I should be able to get past him on the ascent, just to be overtaken on the flat or downhill section where he is stronger. My legs worked wonders and pushed up to him, and beyond. We exchanged pleasantries, what I can't remember, but I kept glancing back to check he wasn't on my heels.

Nearing the top I'd somehow left Neil behind before we hit the steps, Nev was in the mix somewhere there but I can't remember if he was in front or behind me at this point.

Am I actually smiling here in the clag as I near the top of William Clough? Photo thanks to SteveC.
Next came a big push to get my legs moving again and round the finger post, down the path and boom....up up up to Kinder edge. Man that climb is brutal. I returned to my mental practice of counting steps. On most slopes it's a 1 to 20 count then repeat, only allowing myself to pause when I hit 20. Today was a race so I was going to minimise the pauses and push hard, breath hard, get the oxygen in and ignore the pain. The steps really are quite steep, I lower my count to a 1 to 10....1 to 10....1 to 10....its a good rhythm. Then somewhere about two thirds up I'm having an internal argument about the depth of the steps - why aren't they evenly spaced, who makes steps this big and uneven etc. Wait, what's happening, I'm almost at a halt and some guy is overtaking me....quick back to the counting. It works, my rhythm comes back and I'm off again.

Finally the cairn comes into view and although still not quite at the top it does level out a bit. I'm hitting the mental game again to get the legs working. It sort of works, but takes me until after the Downfall to feel like I'm running anywhere near well. I don't pick up any of the trods to get a decent line across the edge, just one small one to miss out the Sandy Heys dogleg. I'm also out here alone. Near the top of the climb we entered the clag....and it remained until the descent to Edale Cross. I actually found it a very lonely race up there. For the majority of the run around the edge it was just me, passing a few walkers, and clag. Thankfully dry clag, and not really cold.

The Downfall comes and goes - thanks Julien for the encouragement. I was surprised there were no marshalls there. At Red Brook there's 10+ mountain rescue guys on standby. Quite odd really, surely Kinder Downfall is a ripe place for people to navigate wrongly if they miss the actual crossing?! Red Brook seemed to take ages to get to, so much so that when I got there I had forgotten it was going to be there at all.

The path seemed to get more rocky from there on, my energy seemed to dip a little so I munched half a bar and kept on with sipping my fluid. The fluorescent yellow jacket of the runner ahead of me was slowly edging closer - I'd been getting the odd glimpse of this runner all the way round the edge, but never quite catching up. We pass the trig point almost together and now my plan is to stay close to him on the descent to Edale Cross and beyond. My plan works, he pulls me along ensuring my fear of descents doesn't take hold and slow me.

Passing Edale Cross I head on to the grass bank for the smoother path, legs striding and I'm still in touch with runner ahead. It's here that the clag clears quite spectacularly....there's what I can only describe as rolling warm fog coming up the track. Yes, it was warm, and yes the sun was out. How glorious. I catch view of more runners ahead and suddenly my very lonely run returns to being a race. I had had to keep reminding myself on the edge path that I was in a race, because without those reminders it was just a run out on Kinder in the clag - no signs of the 300 or so runners anywhere!

Over the stile and onto the narrow path traversing under Kinderlow End. I'm keeping the guy in front close, using his descending to pull me on. Over the ladder stile I lose a bit of time, but then its grassy fields to the farmhouse - just a few big patches of mud and a few stiles to negotiate (one of which I almost stacked it but held my upright posture just about!). I think it was in the first field that I felt I could overtake the runner ahead. I didn't think about trying to run fast, just trying to lengthen my stride and run easy, run light and see what happened. It worked, I got past him and somehow held on to the lead. It was a very determined runner I became from here on, not wanting that guy to get his place back. I had a few glances back over the fields and he wasn't that far behind, but then somewhere on the tarmac I couldn't see him anymore.

looks like hard work now. Photo thanks to ChrisJ.
Dropping down the road towards Bowden Bridge carpark I catch sight of a couple of runners, maybe three. No shirts I recognised, but I was digging deep to keep going, using the slight decline to let gravity help me move forwards. Through the campsite I started to think I could catch the next guy....there was a lady up ahead of him who just seemed out of reach but the guy....he was going to be my target. Trouble was, as soon as I'd hit the level ground my legs felt so heavy. I should have eaten something more on the way down as I really could have done with some energy...and my emergency gel was safely tucked far from reach in my rucksack. Note to self: stash emergency gel in front pouch next time. 

Me, the guy and lady ahead are closing in on each other, then at the dog leg into the playground I seem to be on top of the guy and take advantage of either him slowing or me going just that little bit faster to get past him. Now I really am breathing hard, pushing legs to keep moving, the finish line is in view but I have to run past it and double back to cross the stream. I beeline over the playground, ignoring the path as it deviates from the straight line. I am definitely not going to catch the lady but am holding the lead on the guy (I think)....heart pounding I enter the finish funnel and then the finish line.

Wow. I'm tired just recalling how that felt. What happens next is unbelievable....Neil is still out there and running to the finish line! I had been convinced since Sandy Heys he'd taken a better line and over taken me in the clag. Totally gobsmacked we hug and congratulate each other (I'm not sure he'd crossed the finish line at that point!!). I really did think he would have been in before me. Looking round I see Andrea and a load of other Glossopdalers, plus other runners I knew and there's lots of "well dones" and banter about the race.

I can't see Tim, I keep asking everyone I see if they've seen him....he must be back, he has to be back. What could have gone wrong? Oh well, people convince me he must have gone back to the scout hut so I dip into the river to cool my legs, clean off the mud, and then realise I may never get out as the river wall is quite high!! Or so it seemed after 16km of fell race!!

I wander back to the scout hut and IDP asks if I've seen Tim - I thought that was my line!! It's only now I learn he's got a migraine and has gone to lay down. I find him huddled on Carls sofa under a sleeping bag looking not so peachy. Poor lad. But what an amazing run he had finishing in 18th place.  I leave him to doze while I nip back to the hut for prize giving and socialising. Great to meet up with Dave Taylor, aka Fell Running Guide and chat to him briefly, and a few other about various injuries and ailments. I didn't see Mr Green of the Porter Valley Plodders, he too had a great run. Good job I caught up with him at the start.

The results are out and can be viewed here - where you'll see I managed to come in under 2 hours, great stuff. For all you stats geeks here's my garmin track too.

I'm quite proud of myself for pushing hard on the descent through the fields. I ran faster than I've ever run, building the relationship of trust between brain and fell shoes a little stronger. I know that the ascents will only get easier with actual practice, but descending is much more of a mind game, and one I'm working on.

1 comment:

  1. Great account Lynne. On the lower slopes, it felt as if we were running through steam - quite weird. Ali x