Race Report: Kentmere Horseshoe Fell Race
A Soggy Story
9.8km / 12.3m
1006m / 3300ft
Apparently we have experienced the best summer since 1976, which is quite nice for the Brits. I have spent about 60% of this summer in Vienna, which has had pretty much the same heat, but the locals are used to it. Either way, I have not seen rain like this for quite some time. Skiddaw was dry as a bone only four weeks ago. At 7am on Sunday in Leeds it’s biblically wet. My first thought—though actually I say it out loud— is “I can’t be doing a fell race in this!”
I set off to Kentmere accompanied by some podcast friends Adam Buxton and Richard Herring (I’ve been on a bit of a marathon with these podcasts recently) so the drive goes by in no time and I’m soon pulling into the start field. I hope they have a tractor on stand-by, it’s still raining.
“I can’t be doing a fell race in this” I said out loud again.
Still, I’m here now, and I’m excited. I see a few familiar faces, Andrew from NLFR and a small group of Hyde Park women.
The time last year it was a heatwave, I was doing a poo 2 minutes before the start and had forgotten to change into my fell shoes. I was determined not to run 12 miles in trainers this year, or be caught short. Just before the start I knelt down to tighten my laces to see hundreds of pairs of suitable shoes manufactured by the same brand: it clearly has a stranglehold in the UK more than in Europe.
If you think this race report is unceremonious it’s nothing compared to the start of this race. I always like to giggle about fell race starts. No major announcements, no inspirational talk. Just a bloke with a whistle. Actually I don’t think he even had a whistle. Although on this occasion I can’t blame them for getting it over with quickly, it’s pissing it down. A quick “get back to the line” [Eed: had they hired Dave Woodentops?] and we were off. The weather was so comprehensively British, and something a lot of us might have not experienced for what felt like six months.
A few kilometres in we are all snaking up the climb and one by one runners are peeling off their waterproof jackets: everyone would rather be wet than hot. (It’s 17ºC). My phone is recording my time on Strava and it’s in my Salomon battle vest 2000, unprotected, but I take a risk anyway, performing the tangled ritual of stuffing my waterproof into a back pocket whilst hiking up the hill.
I don’t think I’ve ever been so used to running in the heat, and I don’t think I have done a less than desirable weather run for around 5 months. I love this weather and I have a birthday-like grin on my face, “Fuck the Alps” becomes my mantra. You cannot beat the Lakes!
I catch up with fellow NLFR Andrew. We’ve been running about 40 minutes and at one point soon after the first checkpoint pretty much everyone around me comes to a sudden stop. It’s a traffic jam of runners looking at maps. This is caused by infectious doubt, as the trail seemed quite simple, but one person’s hesitation seems to be giving everyone second thoughts. This happened a few times. Just before the second checkpoint we are suddenly heading face first into a hailstorm. I felt like I was being stabbed in the face by ants and at one point the wind caused me to collide with another runner. It was the strongest wind I have ever experienced in my life, and I forgot my goggles so it was quite difficult on the descent.
Soon after the final checkpoint we get another issue with navigation. I’ll be honest here, I had no idea where I was and I couldn’t remember anything from last year. I see runners going off in different directions and make a quick judgment on who looks like they know what they are doing. So I followed three guys down a steep slope and I was followed in turn by a train of runners, so I guess this tactic is employed by many. At this time with all the hail and wind I just wanted to get down, so I figured even if it meant arriving in a different village and having to navigate back to Kentmere I’d be fine with that, we had passed the last checkpoint anyway right? Luckily we arrived at a stile I somehow remembered from the year before so I knew we’d only overshot the path a bit and hadn’t lost too much time. I use the stile to tighten up my laces as I had rolled my ankle at least six times. This takes time as the laces are quite tough to untie when you can’t feel your fingers. In this time the train of runners has not only caught up with me but has disappeared over the stile and into the fog. I’m alone.
This is one of the sections I remember the most from last year, a pretty fast and fun descent, and I’m glad I tied my laces up for it. One thing I have learned about fell running is that sometimes the least slippery part is the wettest part. So I’m pretty much descending puddles in a waterfall until I’m out of the cloudline and I can see the bottom. I can also see a pack of runners, some coming from a completely different direction, so I kick it up a gear. This time last year in the heat I was completely ruined, but this year I am fitter and the conditions are much better. There’s no chance of me getting dehydrated today.
I get overtaken by a chap who clearly thinks by his pace that he’s closer to the end than he really is. I tell him, “There’s still quite a way to go.” It’s a legitimate warning, but maybe also a bit of subconscious psychological warfare because I am a terrible human being. Then I get overtaken by a man in road shoes. No comment.
There is a fantastic end to a dramatic race. It’s nice to see so many runners still quite close together. The weather dictates the finish to be as unpretentious as the start. Soon I’m back in the car, changed and dry with Adam & Richard on my way back to Leeds. I beat last year’s time somehow by over 20 minutes, hopefully because I’m fitter and not because I accidentally cut half the course off or had the right shoes on. I guess next year’s time will help answer that question.
And if anyone isn’t familiar with the Courtyard Dairy on the A65 between Clapham and Giggleswick it’s definitely worth a visit. They get lots of runners through their doors and seemed less impressed by my day out than I expected. Maybe something to do with their recent influx of Lakeland 100 visitors?