Captain Cooks Fell Race - 2018

In a similar vein to the Wheaton Aston 10k, the Captain Cooks Fell Race on New Year's Day is starting to become a tradition whilst having a break in the Yorkshire Dales (although the race itself is North York Moors).  The 2017 edition was a very unusual race in that of the three main contenders I was probably only the fastest of the three of us in two small sections, but it was my consistency and perhaps a little doggedness towards the end where I dug very deep to effect an overtake 300 metres out from the finish and claim the victory.  I was therefore looking forward to the 2018 race and hoped I could retain my title.


In the first km along the road section I was well positioned and slotted into second, just ahead of last years runner up.  Towards the end of the first km it was just me and last years runner up who pulled away from everyone else and even at this early stage it was pretty clear it was going to be a head to head shootout between the two of us for victory.  As we started to gently climb along the well laid farm track I was around 1-5 metres behind and I was going as fast as I dared knowing that the main climb is yet to come.  This trend continued as the track turned into a muddy and sticky path and the climb was averaging around 10-12%.  Whilst it might appear that I was just following, to be honest it was anything but, we just happened to be fairly well matched for this stage of the race.

At the end of the farm track.  About to go off road and start the proper ascent.  This kind of gap was the norm in the early part of the race.

At 2.5km the main ascent started and comprises of gradients of up to 45% with muddy lumps and bumps to negotiate.  For this reason 90% of this section is not runnable and it more a case of power walking your way up with hands on knees whilst trying not to hit the red zone too much.  It was during this phase of the race where I retook the lead and created a gap of about 5-7 seconds.  I was already getting a feeling of deja vu as the race was more or less repeating what happened in 2017.

As I exited the steep section and the climb leveled out to a more sensible 5% (but far more muddy) I passed the Captain Cook monument and high point of the race with a lead of about 5 seconds.  This was slightly less than last year and what was also surprising was that I was 7 seconds slower.  Its very difficult to make direct comparisons as conditions change each year but none the less was a bit disappointing.

I knew that I'd struggle to defend the lead on the way down, partly as my lead past the monument was a few seconds less than last year, I'm a weak descender and my nemesis is a particularly fast downhill runner.  None the less I really tried to go full gas on the laid stone track and just relied on some groups of hill walkers coming from the opposite direction diving out of the way.  Despite my best efforts of going harder downhill I was soon caught and passed and what was more worrying was that I had been passed far earlier than last year.  I knew this would mean I would have to work harder to take the victory in the last 10 minutes of the race, but to be honest I was sensing things slightly slipping away.  I was far from being out of contention but at the same time I was running out of options.

As we moved off the track onto a muddy footpath I really pushed as this was where last year I lost a lot of time - around 20 seconds in the space of 500 metres if memory serves me correctly.  This extra effort paid off and I now got to the sharp downhill road section only about 3 seconds behind and was now in a far better race position than this time last year.

My goal over the road section was to just keep the gap to a minimum and whilst it peaked to about 20 metres at one point, I managed to reel this back to about 5 metres.  As we turned into a side road there was a sharp climb at an average of 15-20% for about 200 metres.  I tried to use this last bit of the course that is better suited to my abilities to retake the lead.  It was important to have the advantage of getting over the stile first as it means the person behind not only has to work harder to catch up but also extra effort is required to make an overtake.  Again, it was hard not to draw comparisons to last year where in this part of the race I was doing the chasing - I was therefore in a slightly better position and it meant there was still everything to play for.

Final part of descent on the road before it climbs sharply again.
Losses at this point limited to 5-10 metres.  Going full gas.

Just beyond the stile there is a small amount of climb in a very soft grassy field and I had managed to pull out a bit more of a gap, perhaps 5 seconds now.  However, it was at this point I made a near fatal mistake - I missed the kissing gate so in my haste I climbed the fence instead.  I not only lost a few precious seconds but managed to catch my leg on the barbed wire although it didn't feel that bad at the time.  My lead was now cut to no more than a second or so and there was less than 5 minutes of racing left, none of which was suited to my skills.

Just beyond the end of the final road section.  Managed to create a bit of a gap but about 20 seconds away from missing the kissing gate and having a tangle with some barbed wire.

I managed to maintain my 1 second lead along a flat muddy path in the woodlands (compared to a 1 second deficit last year) so now there was just a sharp decent back to the railway line.  I really pushed as hard as I could as there are a series of kissing gates and for each gate I could get to in the lead it means that the person behind is always at a disadvantage.  I managed to hold him off in the early stages of the descent but I just couldn't defend the slender lead over a long stretch between kissing gates.  There was now just a couple of minutes to the finish and I was now about 10 metres behind.  All that was left was a relatively flat but ankle deep section of claggy mud path to the finish.  I was pretty much in exactly the same position as last year, but this time I could really feel I was hanging on like a thread to keep the gap at 10 metres, let alone try to catch and then make an overtake.

With about 200 metres to go I recognised the section where I effected the pass last year but I was still 5 metres behind and now at 100%.  All I had left was a small narrow copse where I knew it was all but impossible to overtake and then the final 50 metres to the finish.  I managed to cut the gap further to no more than a couple of metres as we exited the copse and I tried to sprint as did my competitor.  I was now running too fast for my legs to co-ordinate with my head and things became a bit of a blur.  Sprinting with what feels like two bags of sugar comprising of mud on your shoes on a bobbly muddy path is far from easy and I could feel like my legs had turned to jelly.  I almost fell over as I overstrided but I went from being alongside to taking the lead with 30 metres to go.  It was only with 10 metres left did I know the race was won but even then I had to go at what felt like 110%.

Managed to overtake in between exiting the copse and this photo.

About 30m to go - still holding on.

Determination and pure pain at this point.

20 metres to go...

10 metres.  What we had ascended in the background.

When I crossed the line I was keeled over in pain, legs and much of my body covered in mud, lungs bursting (in a way that felt harder than my recent marathons!) and soon realising that blood had been streaming down my leg from the barbed wire.  Its quite rare to have a fell race that finishes this close, let alone one where the position changes with just metres to go and with about 50 people watching who have no idea what is happening in the race until we pop out of the copse with 20 seconds to go.  All rather exciting!


For winning I managed to retain my trophy (which I never got last year as I wasn't aware there was a trophy!) and got a couple of bottles of wine, a bottle of beer and a chocolate orange :) . Another great race regardless of the result.  Whilst at times it might have felt that I was just following the leader, the reality was that I led for about a third of the race, including at the Captain Cook monument and at all other times it just reflected the fact that we are very well matched overall, even if we have slightly different strengths and weaknesses. Also a quick word for my fellow competitor - whilst it wasn't the result he would have wanted it was a hell of a battle and I had to give it absolutely everything.

Trophy.  Already engraved with my earlier 2017 victory.

My time overall was just one second slower than last year so am not sure what to make of it fitness wise as I feel much stronger.  Perhaps the course was a bit slower than last year (but it felt faster) or maybe there are other factors at play but either way, the race victory was the more important.


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