It’s just before 9am, and I’m standing in a field in Ingleton, on the West edge of the
“Hi mate, you done this before? It’s my first time”
“Yes” comes the reply, “A few times – you’ll enjoy it, just don’t go off like crazy, take your time and you’ll be fine”
The next thing I know, a film crew arrive and start talking to this chap. I’ve only gone and asked Jez Bragg, (defending winner and course record holder in 10h6m) the most stupid question he’s likely to be asked today.
As Jez talks to the film crew, I slink off to the back of the pack – I doubt I’ll see him again. He’ll be tucked up in bed long before I get back.
So begins the Fellsman. An epic 62-mile race over the Yorkshire Dales. It was described to me as a race of three parts, which sounds like a good way to report it.
Part 1 – The Hilly Section
Straight out of Ingleton and we’re off on a 2000′ climb up Ingleborough. Two miles in, I’m struggling – so my motto becomes WWJD, ‘What Would Jez Do”? This is actually not helpful – Jez is of course bounding up this speed bump like a mountain goat. Near the top we hit the limestone and engage in some rock climbing. Coming back down the other side isn’t much better, and I keep thinking to myself – If I fall, I’m going to be falling for a long time onto a lot of rocks, like those Youtube videos you sometimes see and wince at.
No sooner do we hit the bottom, then it’s back off up Whernside for another massive climb and a nice, fast descent to the bottom of Gragareth, (see photo -well, the Scouts did warn us I suppose). This hill is bonkers and nearly finishes me off but I finally manage to get to the top and another fast descent off Great Coum which marks the start of :
Part 2 – The Boggy Section
Two things happen on the descent, firstly – one minute I’m bounding down open moorland, the next – my foot disappears up to the knee in a peat bog and I’m thrown forward – Superman style. Aha – so this is where the peat bogs start is it. Secondly, I notice my left foot feels loose in my shoe, but I’m hammering down the hill so resolve to stop at the bottom to sort it out. Getting to the bottom I find a massive rip along the inner foot – I’ve got at least 35 miles to go and half a shoe.
Fortunately, while eating a sausage roll sandwich with a cup of tea at the next checkpoint the Scouts manage to find some string, and with a couple of reef knots sort-of bind the shoe back together. It’s not pretty, but it might just work.
The next 20 miles is not flat either, but is over miles and miles of peat bogs – in fact most of the rest of the course is over peat bogs. I later come to realise that this race of 3-parts is actually cumulative, so this is actually “The Hilly, Boggy Section”.
I actually start to enjoy myself once I’m into the routine, it’s walk up the hills, run down them, face plant into a peat bog, eat some food from the Scouts, repeat. Amazingly my shoe is holding up to the abuse being thrown at it much to the amusement of the checkpoint staff.
At this point I should probably mention that there’s been a substantial headwind all through the race. On the peaks it’s incredibly tough going, it’s also very cold and everyone is wearing full kit with hats, gloves, waterproofs etc.
The Fellsman has a rule that you get ‘grouped’ into teams of 4 minimum when arriving at a roadside checkpoint after 19:00, I make it to Cray at 44 miles around 20:45 before we get grouped and start:
Part 3 – The Dark Section
Or – the Hilly, Boggy, Dark Section… I run into Cray with 3 chaps and we agree to form a group after a cup of tea and a couple of hot dogs. We’ve been on the go for nearly 12 hours and there’s 18 miles to go. Jez is probably in the pub.
As darkness falls thing start to get seriously cold. I’ve lost the use of my hands after 30 minutes or so and know that this is bad. Coming over the first big hill the wind is gale force and then it starts snowing – it’s a horizontal blizzard! It’s very difficult to run as the ground is tussocky-boggy hell – after what seems like an age we make the checkpoint at Park Rash – 9 miles to go.
This is where things start to get really nasty. There’s one big climb left up to Great Whernside. There’s limestone crags everywhere, the wind is freezing my eyeballs and I’m really struggling now. It’s too dangerous to run which means I can’t keep my body temperature high enough, I’m so glad for the company – out here on my own would be suicide!
We miss the checkpoint at the top and spend what seems like an age hunting for a little tent in pitch black. Eventually we see it and the cheery scouts inside tell us that people are dropping like flies with hypothermia. Coming down takes ages to the final big checkpoint at Yarnbury with 2 miles to go.
Getting into the checkpoint, I’m completely spaced out. My eyesight has gone haywire and everything is blurred/foggy with halo effects that would probably cost millions to reproduce in Hollywood movies. I later find out that this is a classic “Snowblind” symptom. But we’ve only got 2 miles to go – and it’s all on road now so I decide to MTFU. The checkpoint staff tell us the race is being abandoned and they are supposed to pull us from the race, but will let us go as we’re so close and off the hills now.
The final 2 miles into the finish are surreal, my vision is going mad and I wonder if I’m going to make it. However, we all get there to applause at 02:15 – over 17 hours after starting. Stories of the “body bus” being full of hypothermic runners resound around the sports hall as the four of us nurse cups of tea and more sausage roll sandwiches.
So – that’s the Fellsman done… And finished – against all odds. As I sit here, barely 15 hours after finishing with mashed feet, numb hands (still) and something which feels like jet lag I think that I now have a new bar to judge every future experience against, i.e. – yes this is bad / hurts – but if you can get through The Fellsman, you can get through this.