Borrowdale Fell Race, 3rd August 2019

Sarah Bowen and Richard Slack tackled this tough course in the Lake District, but unfortunately both were timed out at Honister.

For Sarah, it was “Timed out again but got further than last year… third time lucky for 2020! Had 4 falls, wasp sting, thigh deep in a bog, went the wrong way with a couple of others but all in all an amazing day!”.

Richard has sent this report and photographs:

“I have always wondered what coming first in a race might be like –however highly unlikely that may be. Well at Borrowdale I achieved part of that by being the first runner to be timed out at the Honister Pass cut-off point after 4 hours and 35 minutes of sheer effort, a certain amount of abductor agony and the brutal experience that is Borrowdale. The cut-off limit is 4 hours 30 minutes. Here is how the story unfolded

The Borrowdale Fell Race is a Lake District classic covering 17 miles and 7,000 foot of ascent, starting and finishing at Rosthwaite. The route is  Bessyboot (1,804 foot); skirting the Glaramara ridge, Esk Hause, Scafell Pike (3,209 foot), Corridor Route to Styhead Tarn, Great Gable (2,949 foot), across Gillercombe and descent to Honister. By then you have done about 13 miles and 6,000 foot of ascent. For those, and in fairness the majority, who got beyond that point there remains Dalehead (2,470 foot) before the final descent via Dalehead Tarn and the Scawdale Mines to Rosthwaite

After the registration, I had met Sarah Bowen and we set off together for the first and only gentle 2km on the route taking the runners out towards Bessyboot. This is a lung bursting ascent covering around 1,500 foot pretty much straight up. I was pleased to arrive at the summit and first check point in just over 49 minutes with Sarah just behind. Marie was at the summit giving a loud Claremont Cheer before she headed back to the road at Seatoller to meet Nina prior to them going up to Honister.

Pushing on from Bessyboot, the route is a gradual ascent skirting the main Glaramara ridge. Sadly it was like running in treacle following some heavy rain over the prior week with consequently no help from firm ground but rather squelching progress towards the second check point at Esk Hause (total time 1 hour 46 minutes). From here, and still with a line of runners in sight (although the fast runners had long gone), the route by-passes Great End and heads over the rocky slopes of Ill Crag and Broad Crag and up onto Scafell Pike. The curse of the Chevy struck again and what should have been some of the easier ground was agonising due to abductor cramps. Note – more strengthening needed and now I understand the importance of Nina’s boot camps! I reached the summit of Scafell Pike in 2 hours and 26 minutes. This compares to Billy Bland’s course record of 2 hours 34 minutes set in 1981– I was at best half way at this point!

The descent of Scafell Pike is not for the feint hearted – about an 800 foot sheer scree run with rocks of various sizes whistling by your legs as you descend. Arriving in one piece at the Corridor route it was another good section again blighted by cramp. But pushed on and after some good grassy sections made it to Styhead and the first cut off point with 17 minutes to spare at just over 3 hours of running. Sarah also made Styhead following around 5 to 10 minutes later which was great.

Sadly after Styhead is the never-ending stone staircase to Great Gable. On the way up my legs just had no power. At that point another runner passed by me going down the mountain who said he’d just had enough. Sadly the news at that point was that I was not even half way. Given retreat was not an option I plodded on and eventually after 40 minutes of climbing made the summit and the next check-point. I had lost so much time on that section so chances of making the Honister cut-off appeared slim. Nonetheless with a new burst of energy I descended off Great Gable, contoured round Green Gable and caught two other tail-end runners. We ran a great leg towards Honister with a final push to the check point. Not to be. The check point times rightly are enforced and with a mix of sadness and relief that I no longer had to do Dalehead I knew my race was over. A similar ending was to greet Sarah too, which means for next year we know what is needed!

Nina and Marie met me at Honister and provided much needed Claremont cheer as well as a deluxe selection of snacks in a cool bag. Only Claremont would replicate Cross Country on the fells! Billy Bland was also there and had a chat with me which was really lovely and the mark of a true fell running legend. See image. Thereafter I had the luxury of a lift back to Rosthwaite and a long desired beer.

Of note, at Honister, Nina and Marie observed a disproportionate number of fell runners are sandy/red heads compared to the population norm, Sarah and myself fulfilling this anomaly for the Claremonters.

Finally, that evening we all attended a lecture by Jasmin Paris. See image. Jasmin has won the Borrowdale (women) 3 times and holds records for the Bob Graham, Paddy Buckley and Ramsay Rounds and in 2019 ran the Pennine Way (Spine race), all 268 miles, in just over 83 hours, an overall record. Inspirational but may not need my services as a pacer in future races.

A truly exhausting and exhilarating day.”

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