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Race Reports [Reports Index]

Borrowdale Fell Race
Saturday 2nd August 2014

(Shamelessly nicking a lot of what I wrote on the Runners' World 'Sub 3' forum here.)

So... the Borrowdale Fell Race. We've had many August family fortnights in Keswick and more than once I've been aware of arriving just as a big race was packing up, but this year I found out what it was and entered it. I was only allowed to do this by citing my Bob Graham Round as experience, as otherwise proven form in other long fell races is required. No excuses next year then! It's a bit like doing a quarter of the BGR: about 17 miles and 6500' of climb and descent, much of it on trackless terrain of a nature that's hard to find in Cambridge (scree, boulder fields, tussocky bogs, and of course insanse slopes).

I failed in my scheme to start at the very front to avoid the melee, as the first mile or two are highly constricted in a wall-flanked path; I got boxed in rather even though I was maybe only 20 places back. But that was enough not to be in a scary crush, so I can't complain.

I kept up reasonably well on the first climb -- though I hadn't appreciated how much power-walking, or just walking, would be involved (wish I'd worn the HRM for post-analysis). I made a probable tactical error by sticking to my GPS route across Glaramara when the bunch went another, no doubt better, way. Things became tough weather-wise, with increasingly heavy rain blasted in by strengthening headwinds as we approached Scafell Pike, and I was _ever_ so slow on the boulder fields which I enjoy when they're dry -- I must have lost loads of places there, but just wasn't prepared to risk a broken ankle that was threatened by every slippery rock I stepped on. Also messed up by getting rather cold before re-donning my waterproof there.

Saw someone with debris gaiters at the start and thought 'what a poser, how unnecessary'. Then descended through a wet avalanching mush of fine scree off Scafell Pike and got shoe-fulls of stones, and thought 'hmm, really wish I had some debris gaiters'. Hands too cold to undo my paranoid shoelace-fixing safety pins for some time, so I had to run on with gravel banging my toes and under my foot, but eventually had a sit-down on the Corridor Route to shake out the stones, as yet more runners streamed past.

Great Gable was better; I took a good few places in a slow-mo race upwards, the erosion-proofed paths not so different to my trademark car park stairs; but again I lost places on the descent, not having the skills and recklessness to keep up with the experts. Skidded on my ar$e a few times but nothing worse than bloody elbows.

I messed up nutritionally by having only 3 gels on me; climbing Dale Head, my calves and quads were quite serviceable but I was getting light-headed and drained of energy. This was a long event and I should have had more. More places haemorraged. But things picked up on the descent, and I relished a bit of arm-waving euphoria on the steep grassy sections down to the river.

I'll be eternally grateful to the small boy who told me in the last mile that jam sandwiches were waiting at the end; one of those and several cups of super-concentrated squash soon had my blood sugar back up and a survivor's smile on my face.

Final scores on the doors: 4hr24 (about an hour longer than I hoped!) and only 116th place, mid-field really. In retrospect, I should have done just enough specific training to enjoy it as a holiday experience (and to avoid it wrecking the rest of my holiday through DOMS -- which I hopefully have), but being so uncompetitive I should have stuck with more conventional training for the benefit of post-holiday road races. But what the hell, it was an epic experience, enough to get the giggles driving back into town, and boy did I enjoy the recuperation :-)

PS you're given a transponder ('dibber') to log your arrival at each checkpoint, and impressively those times must be radioed back as they're available at the finish. Comparing my splits with the winner's confirms some of the hard lessons I learnt:

Checkpoint__Winner__Me___% Slower____Notes/Excuses!
Bessyboot__28:29___35:20__24____Non-technical climb OKish
Esk_Hause__36:57___50:32__37___Went off piste on Glaramara
Scafell_Pike__20:35__30:11___47___Southern wuss scared on slippery boulder fields, cold too
Styhead____18:31___32:32__76___Can't keep up on descents!
Great_Gable_18:40___23:43__27___Non-technical climb OKish
Honister____23:06___34:04__47___Can't keep up on descents!
Dale_Head__18:14___26:43__47___Non-technical climb but bonking, schoolboy nutrition error
Finish______18:44___31:42__69___Can't keep up on descents!

PPS difficult to format that, excuse the underscores...

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