Captain Cook's Fell Race

The short story was that this was a cracking race...

I came 4th last year in a time of 33.41 in what was my first ever fell race.  I really enjoyed the course and decided that I should give it another go and see whether I could improve my time.  This year the plan was to run to my advantage by going hard from the outset and see what I could do on the climb and try and defend where possible on the way back down.

Waiting at the start.

After we started I went as hard as I dared but even so I was about 9th early on with two lunatics deciding to go as hard as possible before dropping away and everyone else then strung out.  After the first km on the road I was about 6th, just behind a group of four and the leader about 20 metres ahead.  The first km was gently uphill, yet I did the km in 3.16 and was basically nowhere near the front - this was not the plan!

Over the second km the climb gradually started to increase and we ran on a well made farmers track.  I started to move through the field, eventually picking off the group of four who by now had split a little.  The leader was still about 20 metres ahead of me but I was starting to gradually reel him in.  By the end of the km we turned right and went onto a rough footpath and the gradient started to increase bit by bit.  By now I was just a few metres behind the leader and there was another runner in an Aberdeen vest just a few metres behind me.  As far as I could tell we were well clear of everyone else.

About 1.5km in.  Leader clear but slowly being reeled in.

The third km continued much in the same way, a fairly runnable gradient that started to get steeper and steeper.  As the gradient continued to kick in I could sense the Aberdeen runner itching to get past us both but he was largely constrained by the narrow path.  I was marginally quicker than the leader but not enough to make a move.  When it opened out a little the Aberdeen runner overtook us both and started to move away a little.  I tried to follow as best as I could and by the time we got to the 1 in 3 gradient section (about 400 metres long) I was about 5 metres behind and the early leader was a further 10 metres behind me.

The gradient was now at its severest and even though the three of us power walked up I was losing touch with the Aberdeen runner.  As the gradient started to flatten out before going onto the final section to Captain Cook's monument I was about 20 seconds behind, with third a further 20 seconds behind me.  The gap more or less stayed the same as we passed the monument itself.  At this point I thought the chances of a race win were ebbing away and I'd struggle to hold onto 3rd.

At Captain Cook's monument.

The first part of the descent was on a laid granite path, although fairly uneven in places.  I could see the gap opening up even further to the leader and I could sense the third placed runner having caught the vast majority of the gap to me in the space of less than 500 metres.  Any remote chance of a race win was now more or less gone.  I managed to hold off the runner just behind me as we exited the main path and started to run on a peaty / boggy side path with some sharp mini descents in places.  After the first section of this path I could only occasionally glimpse the leader who was by now about 20 seconds ahead.  The second section of the path was even more boggy but less of a descent and it was at this point I was overtaken and was now 3rd.  I couldn't keep up with the pace and fell quickly away from the now second placed runner.  He was running so swiftly in this section that he managed to close the 20 seconds or so to the Aberdeen runner in the space of 500 metres.  Whilst I couldn't live with that kind of pace, I did get pulled along a little and managed to get to about 12 seconds of the leading pair.

Early descent.  Still clear second at this stage.

We now entered the final road section which continued downhill and I tried to go as fast as I could.  I certainly didn't lose any time but nor did I gain any either.  I was rapidly running out of options - even on the road section which was good underfoot I was unable to even slightly bridge the gap to the leading pair.

The road then turned right and there was a final sharp mini testing ascent on the road for about 90 secs where the gradient hit 1 in 4 in places.  I powered up and I couldn't believe it, I was actually catching the leading pair and rapidly too!  By the end of this mini ascent all three of us were together - Abdeeen still leading, from early leader from me.  I now thought that I had a chance, an outside chance at best but at least I was now in contention.  After leaving the road there was a style to climb over and as I was third I lost a few seconds having to wait my turn.  There was then a small climb in a grassy boggy field - the climb was no more than 5-7 metres in the space of 150 metres and it was in this section that I overtook the Aberdeen runner who seemed to have slowed dramatically.  I suspect the climb on the road together with running fast with the other guy on the descent had pretty much finished him off.  I was now second and just a couple of metres behind the leader.

Climbing up the road - quickly catching up the leaders.

Looking ahead from my angle.  You can see the lead is narrowing compared to the previous photo.

The last little bit of climb after leaving the field.  About to be second again before the final long descent into the finish.

The problem over the final 2 km was that there was at least half a dozen kissing gates to navigate and being just behind the leader meant I always lost a couple of seconds - it was a lose lose situation as I had to put in extra effort each time to try and close the gap.  Whilst it wasn't a case of hanging on as such, I simply didn't have the gears to go any faster and try to overtake.  After a short section along a muddy track in a forest, we made a sharp turn and with it a testing mini descent over a stony path into the final open fields.  I did my best to get through the stony section without losing too much ground but by now was about 10 metres behind.  It felt like the elastic band was about to snap, any more of a lead and I knew it was curtains for me.  What also worked against me a little was the support on the course for the leader who was clearly well known amongst most people.

We came to a railway crossing and I managed to get the gap down to 5 metres which at this pace equated to about one second.  I was trying my best not to let the leader get any more of a gap than was necessary for him to get through the kissing gates.  There was now just a two minute run along a gradual downhill footpath that was exceptionally muddy and I was still about 5 metres behind.  I could keep in touch but do no more.  With about a minute or so left I told myself now was the time to do something, anything.  It was no good putting in all this effort to lose by a matter of metres.  I therefore made my sprint for home.  I was now alongside and then marginally ahead and waited for his counter move.  It didn't come.  He had nothing left and must have put in everything to drop me.  I could sense I was leading by about 5 metres.  Just 30 seconds left - hold on!  As I exited the last copse I had a quick look back and could tell the win was mine.  In the end I won by about 7 seconds.

Leading for the first time.  About 15 metres from the finish.

That was a hard fought victory and one of the most complex runs that ebbed and flowed throughout the course.  What was amazing was that the first time I led the race was only with about 200 metres to go - not because I was playing it tactically but it was just the way it panned out.  Playing it back in my mind, I think that I was probably the fastest of the three of us in only 2 small sections (excluding the final sprint) - one section where I was about 5 seconds quicker along the farmers track early on in the race and the ascent up the final road section where I must have gained 12 seconds.  The rest of it I was probably second fastest but this worked out better for me as I was more consistent in my pace compared to the other two.

Looking at my watch I crossed the line in a time of 30.40, some three minutes quicker than last year. Compared to previous results I seemed to have also set a course record as well for the anti clockwise route that has been run since 2001.  The previous record being set in a time of 30.53 in 2009.  This is still a minute slower than the official record set in 1991 where the course was run the other way round.  Even so, judging by previous results the last time someone ran a faster time was in 1993 - some 24 years ago!  My wife who was watching at the finish told me that there were quite a few surprised faces as the runner I beat won the race last year and is clearly well known locally.

I wasn't aware that there were any prizes for winning, at least no one said anything to me when I crossed the line so headed home.  I missed out on a bottle of Prosecco and a trophy that I could hold onto for a year.  Oh well... 


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