Last weekend saw Llanberis become the meeting point for the most special breed of runner… the fell runner. Fell running is most certainly my favourite type of running, be it out there on my own tasting freedom and taking on the elements, or if it’s competing in this most eccentric of sports – in awe of how people tackle the mountains and in my element with the unique atmosphere before and after the race. Llanberis is a Mecca for fell running, but the best of the best arrived for the annual British Fell Relay championships and were treated to some typical Snodownian weather.
The fell relays are always a highlight of the calendar. The format is simple, there are two solo legs (1 & 4), a longer paired leg (2) and a paired navigation leg (3). Each leg passes to the next unless the team takes too long, at which point those teams join the mass start – effectively restarting those legs as a competitive race again. Each leg time is added to the next to give the final time and a ranking.
Despite the October date, the previous two years have seen Helsby team members and supporters lazing around in the sun. We enjoyed 50-70mph winds and heavy squally showers. Most teams bring a base camp tent or gazebos – many became casualties over the weekend as the wind snapped poles and pulled out guy ropes. These conditions didn’t deter anybody and, if I’m honest, just made for a more memorable event.
Almost without exception, those assembled are seasoned and serious fell runners. Some teams feature a who’s who of the sport, whilst others are rather more modest in terms of ability. Helsby sits somewhere in the middle of that spectrum and had a number of relative newcomers in. Don’t get me wrong, we’re as competitive as the next team, but we don’t lose sight of enjoying the event and encouraging all abilities. I dare say the three newcomers will be toeing the line for Helsby in the future and will continue to improve on their impressive performances.
Leg 2 was just over 14KM in distance with 990m of ascent squeezed in. I ran it with Adair which made for a pretty even match-up. The transition stage included a steep slate incline which allowed me to pull my hip flexor straight out the gate – a painful start. I managed to ignore it until the stile at the base of Moel Cynghorion where the pain was significant enough for me to consider dropping out, but given it was a team race I dug in and tried to keep in touch with Adair on the monstrous (and rather monotonous) climb.
We’d made good progress and had overtaken quite a number of teams, but we weren’t ready for the strength of the wind at the top… no one was! It was the Fellsman all over again. I was running at such an angle that when a person tried to pass me I fell into them – the break they created in the wind meant it no longer held me up!
The route took us along a section of the Paddy Buckley between Moel Cynghorion and Moel Ellio. The wind was crazy, the rain horizontal and stung the skin. The wind blew so hard that it would frequently created a pocket with zero air in – the same effect that allows a moving drop top car not to get wet when driving through the rain. No matter how much I tried II simply couldn’t breathe without turning my head to the side. I spared a thought for my wife Laura who was running leg 2 for the Helsby Ladies team. At first it was concern for her, then I remembered that she’s hard as nails so I relaxed knowing she’d be ok. The route itself was great and with visibility the ridge would be absolutely stunning – it certainly stirred up my desire to run the Paddy Buckley.
Heading off the tops was a joy – a genuinely runnable gradient I could lean into and put my foot down. I tripped near the bottom, landed on my right thigh, sent with the slide long enough to pull my left foot around, dig my heel in and spring back up into a running stride all in one movement… at least that’s how if felt, whether it was quite as Starsky and Hutch-esq is another question.
The descent took chunks out of our competitors and had pulled in a few more teams. Sprinting into the transition area was fantastic, the wet purple slate providing a dramatic backdrop to the handover. All in all, fantastic organisation, awesome marshals and a great opportunity to catch up with friends.
So how did Laura’s third fell race go? She loved it! Even more so that the weather was so extreme. Just one of the reasons why I love her so much!
- Chris F = 80th
- Adair and CBH = 57th
- Phil and Steve = 113th
- Jimmy – 67th
Results above are overall placings, our final placing within our class was: 54th (in class out of 99)
- Jenny – 108th (8th lady)
- Vanessa and Laura = 155th (27th ladies)
- Jackie and Nesta = 165th (34th ladies)
- Jayne = 96th (10th lady)
Results above are overall placings, final placing within class was: 28th (in class out of 38)