Monday, 15 January 2018

Race Report: The High Fells of Hedgehope Half Marathon

"Mudkicker kiiiiiiiick... I don't fuck around!"

So snarled Seb Bach, as the closing chords of 'Mudkicker' by Skid Row rattled the car windows. An apt song for Spotify to randomly select from my pre-race playlist, as one thing the lower slopes of Hedgehope have a lot of is mud.

Formerly the Hedgehope Winter Wipeout, and now re-named to form part of the 'High Fells of...' trail series, it's a fairly straight forward "See that big hill? Ye run oop, and ye run dahn, 'n' try not to get ye'self deed!" type of affair. A classic fell race, really, except that it's marked out so there's no route choice or nav required. Having done it last year not entirely structurally sound, I was keen to improve on my 2:16/38th place.

The wind was up when I parked up on the field at Ingram, and that prompted a fair bit of fannying around trying to decide on what kit to wear: do I start off in my waterproof to block some of the wind and risk being 'Boil-in-the-bag Ben'? Decisions, decisions... Pondering this, I had a natter with Tricia, got registered, took the piss out of Helen for a bit, and then generally got ready for the insanity to follow. A few Harriers were milling around though, other than Helen, I only actually spoke to Rachel (who eventually convinced me that my waterproof was overkill, and she was right!).

Outside for the safety briefing, and then it was 10 minutes to the start. I was in a much better spot this year so didn't get caught in the bottle neck when Alison counted us off, and was able to settle into a fairly decent rhythm rather than feeling I had to overtake essentially the whole field in the first km, which I tried to do last year(!)

Bit of road, then onto a rutted muddy track, at which point the fun began. Beyond wanting to improve on last year, I didn't have any goals in mind - I knew I wasn't in contention for honours of any kind in a race like this - so I was happy to steadily make my way up the field. Legs were feeling pretty strong for climbing, which I was pleased about: clearly, the small amount of strength & conditioning work I've been able to motivate myself to do has actually paid off a bit! By about 3k, the lead guys were well ahead and largely hidden by the clag, but I was still in contact with the chase group and in the top 10 (I think). From 5k onwards the classic fell runner 'hands on knees, blowin' oot yer arse' pose was adopted by most of us in that group, as the grind up to Cunyan Crags and then on to Dunmore Hill began. A little bit of slip-sliding on the rocks, but it didn't seem as bad this year as last, so that was nice! A swooping descent from the top of Dunmore Hill is a nice little pick-me-up before the bog-fest that occurs skirting Threestoneburn Wood. Gradually, the bog turned to ice, becoming a full on ice-rink in places. Horizontal sleet/snow and frozen eyelashes added to the experience! The boulder field below the summit was a foot deep in snow in places, making for some interesting postholing but, having run round the flag that marked the turnaround, I reckon that snow actually made the descent easier, once I got over my nerves and committed to it; last year there was little-to-no snow, but the boulders were slick with ice, and the potential for a snapped ankle was high. The crust of the snow was just frozen enough to allow for running over the top this year, which made for a quicker and safer descent.

The return leg past Threestoneburn Woods was fast and fun. At one point, the lad in front of me had his arms out, pretending to be an aeroplane. "Huh!" I chuckled to myself, "Well, I do say 'if yer not flyin' yer not tryin'... OOOFT!" Yes, at this point, with perfect comic timing I hit the deck, landing on my left shoulder and performing a slick little commando roll onto my feet, which then started running again whilst the rest of me wondered what exactly just happened?! You have to laugh really.

Photo: Jim Imber

Coming down off Cunyan Crags the temperature rose noticeably and the clag lifted. It's very easy to be head-down focused on the race, but it was worth slowing down a bit to take in that view. A few more undulations and then it was back to the rutted track and the road. And, of course, the fell runner's ice-bath that Barry 'kindly' puts on for us... A zig-zagged fording of the Breamish. Saves cleaning the shoes, anyway!

Photo: Andrew Hewitt

2:03:09 and 13th place, a little over 15 minutes behind the winner. It would have been nice to have got under 2 hours, just 'cause, but I achieved what I set out to do - better last year's performance - so mission accomplished. Got my bling from Barry, then signed back in, collected a t-shirt, and went to get my 'survivors' mug' filled with broccoli and stilton soup by the lovely folk at the Valley Cottage Cafe. That soup tasted just as good as last year! Hung around at the end talking to folk and waiting for Tricia and Helen to come in, then grabbed some lunch before heading home.

Bling

As I walked in the door, Xander started shouting "I JUST WANT TO GO FOR A RUN!!!" so on his shoes went, and we had a jog up our lane. We saw a chicken. "HELLO CHICKEN!!! WE'RE GOING FOR A LITTLE RUN! CLUCK CLUCK!" When we got to the turn around point, a little voice said "Want a carry..." I looked down, and he was staring up at me mournfully with his arms outstretched. Naturally, I said "No chance, mate!" to which he replied "Ok... I'll just have a little walk..." Passed the chicken again. "HELLO CHICKEN! ARE YOU HAVING A NICE CLUCK?!" Re-enthused by the sight of said bird, we started running back down the lane, which was a slight downhill. "RUNNING DOWN THE MOUNTAIN! RUNNING DOWN THE MOUNTAIN! HOW AM I GOING TO STOP?!?!"

Which, coincidentally, is almost exactly what I was shouting coming off the summit of Hedgehope mere hours earlier. The apple didn't fall far from the tree there, like...!

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