Thursday, 20 July 2017

Race Report: The High Fell Events Ingram Trail Run

Barry, of High Fell Events, is a bit of a sadist and, consequently, I flippin' love his events.

I did the Ingram Half Marathon last year and thoroughly enjoyed it, in a "type 2 fun" kind of way, though I had very little by way of hill legs at the time due to focusing on road miles for an autumn marathon. Despite that, and some inexplicable nausea for most of the route, I managed to not embarrass myself too much with an 8th place finish. I'd hoped to return for the full Mary this year or, perhaps, the ultra; sadly, the longer distances were axed, but that gave me the opportunity to toe the line again on the 21km route and try and better my performance from last year.

We'd hoped to take advantage of the free camping on the night before as Xan is turning into a proper little outdoorsman. Unfortunately, whilst Outwell make a canny family tent, they don't make one that can stand up to the apparent hurricane that struck the Ingram Valley that evening. After wrestling with the fly-sheet for a while, I called time on the whole affair as even when we'd managed to get the poles up they didn't bear any resemblance to a tent shape, and I was concerned about them snapping under the strain. Added to which, Xan was already freaking out at the noise the flysheet was making in the wind, and was running around shouting "Just noise! Just noise!" to reassure himself; I didn't think he'd cope too well overnight if the wind picked up any more or, worse, the tent collapsed. Luckily, with us only living about 90 mins away, it wasn't too big a deal to pack up again and drive home for the night.

An early start saw us back at the Hall on Sunday morning to register, and congratulate those hardy souls who had managed to pitch their (mostly much smaller!) tents and weather the storm, as it were. A hug and a catch-up with Tricia, who was marshaling, as well as Dominic from DVTR, passed the time nicely until it was time to congregate at the start line. A few NFR vests were dotted around, notably a certain Mr Chris Winter; I, however, was Back In Black as a Harrier, with it being a trail race rather than a fell race (a bit Judean Peoples' Front/Peoples' Front of Judea, to be honest, but England Athletics had a stern word in my ear on the phone about such matters when I was trying to sort out the whole First Claim nonsense!).

"Whoah, hold on! I don't want to be at the front, like!", said Chris. "Yeah you do... GLORY DASH!", was my reply and then, just like that, we were off. For someone who didn't want to be at the front, Chris was doing a pretty bad job, as he was front-runner from the word go; memories of last year's race where I saw another NFR vest, this one belonging to Gaz Jones, disappearing over the horizon before I settled into my own race.

Glory dash.
Not warming up was a mistake as, as soon as we passed through the first gate and onto the grassy incline that starts the race, my heart rate was rocketing; running on grass is always going to be harder and quite honestly I'm not used to it, but this felt much harder than I'd hoped. Still, I knew there was much worse to come so had no choice but to try and manage things as best I could.

I settled into 5th place and spent much of the first half of the race essentially running on my own. I could see the lead group most of the time, so was still in reasonable contact, but there was no-one especially snapping at my heels. I was content, therefore, to sit where I was for a bit in the hope of making a move later on, once we'd got past the Salters Road and over Little Dodd.

Salters Road is a twat, basically. No other way I can put it. As last year, I opted for a tactical hike; I don't have the leg strength to power up something like that at the moment (need to do more [read: any!] squats!) and the difference in speed between my running gait and hiking gait was negligible; to be honest, the power hike may have even been a little quicker. Regardless, the change of gait transferred the load to other muscles, meaning I was able to switch gears again on the runnable sections.

"Call this a trail run?! I could run it with my eyes closed!"
As I reached the check point at the top of Little Dodd, I was able to clearly see 4th and 3rd places, and my brain got to thinking... The next section was downhill, albeit over fairly broken ground, and I was able to open up a little bit and start clawing some of the gap back. I actually came right up on 4th place shortly after this point but elected to sit behind rather than make a move there and then, as I wasn't confident I could maintain the position and didn't want the psychological blow of being passed; this possibly cost me a podium spot, but we'll never know.

The nature of the course meant that I lost sight of the guys in front and then, suddenly, they came into view again, with 4th and 3rd having swapped places! Interesting... I started to smell blood here and, at roughly the 15km point, made my move, nipping past the lad who was now 4th and opening up a gap. Sure enough, no response came; he'd been running really strongly up until this point and so I can only assume his legs had gone. Big cheesy grin and thumbs up to Barry who was pulling marshal duties and confirmed I was in 4th, and then back to the task in hand.

At around the 18km point there's a sneaky little drop down to a water crossing; this is hidden by undergrowth and, naturally, Barry gives no kind of warning... Consequently, if you don't know it's there then there's a good chance of a Thelma & Louise moment as you charge over the edge. Fortunately, I was expecting it this year and, whilst I pussyfooted down the bank, had no calamities. On the climb up the other side, however, the cramp in my calves started. I haven't experienced cramping calves for quite some time, even on UT110k, so this was a bit of a shock; I'm putting it down to cumulative fatigue from averaging roughly 3-4 hours sleep a night since I don't know when. "Bollocks," I thought, "He's bound to catch me now..." as I hiked the incline, through a forest of bracken and a swarm of flies so thick I could genuinely barely see at times(!) Fortunately for me, the attack never came. I could still just about see 3rd place but the gap was such that I knew I had no chance of catching him if the cramp was setting in, so I focused on consolidating the position I was in.

Tricia was on the final marshal point to warn runners about the rutted barley field that made up the penultimate section of the race. Rutted is one way of putting it... Twatting ankle-snapper is another. This slowed me right down, both due to being overly cautious and the fact that the uneven terrain was causing spasms of cramp. Looking behind, I saw a white vest rapidly gaining on me; the lad who I had overtaken had clearly been overtaken by someone else, and this guy appeared to have no leg issues! A few swear words were uttered under the breath, and I set my sights on the final field, which was far more runnable; I had to hope that, if he did catch me, I had enough of a kick to pull away again.

Leaving the Barley Field of Broken Bones behind, I risked a glance over my shoulder and saw that there was still a healthy gap between us. Regardless though, the afterburners got lit and away I went; not taking any chances! Had a bit of a faff with the final gate, as with all the gates on the route; never sure whether to climb them or try and open them. This time I opted to try to climb first and it swung disconcertingly(!); I then realised it was actually one of the few that was easily opened and opted for that instead, so as to avoid more cramp. Closing it again was more of a problem but, as there was another runner closing in and plenty of marshals around, I didn't waste too much time; the risk of escaping livestock was pretty low! The shortest of short road sections and then it was over the line, 4th place in 1:55:09 according to my watch; 4 minutes quicker than last year, albeit on a slightly different course, and 4 places higher. Still no podium spot though; always the prize-maid, never the prized! Chris took the win convincingly, continuing the fine NFR tradition.

Crossing the line
Hung around for a bit chatting to folk and eating lunch, then disappeared off to the nearby cafe to claim my complimentary coffee, and to get some ice creams for Rachel and me, and some flapjack for Xan. A perfect end to a cracking race; couldn't realistically have asked for better weather in the Cheviots, and Barry's choice of route didn't disappoint.

Lovin' this year's t-shirt design!

I have to say though, I was really impressed with those new-fangled invisible bumbags people were using to carry the mandatory kit... </snark>


  1. Great review of the race Ben! I'm the guy you were trying to catch in 3rd ;) it was a really interesting race I thought and me and the guy who was in 3rd for a lot of it switched a fair few times before like you said his legs must have died. I was quite determined to get a podium spot but really had no-one idea how far 4th place (you) was behind!

  2. Ha! Good to hear from you! When I lost sight of you for the final time you were looking strong, so that podium spot was well deserved ��