Before I begin telling you about my fight for survival at the Widdop Fell race, I feel the need to issue a disclaimer first. (Boy, you know a race report is going to be good when it starts with a disclaimer!)
********************************disclaimer************************************************************ A large part of this post is going to be negative. This is not, in any way, a reflection of the organisers of the race and is not intended to put anyone off attempting it. Any bad experiences I endured were wholly a result of the fact that I am a crap fell runner and these kind of things scare me to death. Calder Valley Fell Runners (the organisers) are a fantastic bunch of runners who really do know how to put on a race and I will certainly be attending more of their events in the future…..although I think I’ll give this particular one a miss for a while…. ********************************disclaimer************************************************************
I’d heard lots of rumours about this race in the weeks leading up to the event; largely about how it was an absolute beast of a fell race! Intrigued, I had a look at the website to find out a little more information. I wish I hadn’t bothered.
“This classic high moorland route follows good and interesting paths with a few tussocks and chest high bracken thrown in! The route is partially marked throughout but can catch the less observant runners out in mist!!!”
Okay, sounds like this isn’t the event for me, I’ll give it a miss. But, in their infinite wisdom, the head honchos of Trawden AC had decided to make this one of the club’s summer series events……..of which I’ve attended every single event so far. I was the only female runner in my club to have so far completed every race. I’m never going to win any of the races (or even get close!) so I like to appease myself for my lack of trophies by awarding myself my own prize in my head for having a go at every race. So before I go off and be crazy somewhere else, I’ll leave you with my account of the race.
The start of the race was pretty uneventful. We gathered near the start line outside the Pack Horse in Widdup, had a useful race briefing from the organiser and then we were sent on our merry way. It was a glorious evening and lots of runners had turned out for this hardy fell race. After just thirty seconds or so of running down the road, we turned left and promptly ground to a halt. Styles are not a fell runner’s best friend! Unfortunately there were at least three or four styles in the first kilometre so most of that time was spent waiting patiently in a queue to get over the next style…..although two cheeky ‘gentlemen’ (and I mean that in the loosest sense of the word) were taking things far too seriously and shoved their way through the queue and received some much-deserved abuse from those of us who had manners.
On towards the reservior and things began to open up a bit. There was plenty of room to overtake if you wished to and the views were stunning. I was really enjoying the route and began to laugh at myself for being so apprehensive over nothing. Big mistake. The end of the reservoir brought with it the end of any runnable terrain. Seriously. We were forced into single file onto an incredibly narrow track with grass that went up to your knees. Unfortunately for me it went up to my shoulders. The track was so narrow there wasn’t enough room for a natural stride and you kind of had to walk ‘heel to toe’ in a dead straight line. Because of the long grass you could see neither your feet nor the ground and this brought lots of comedy falls from everyone. My ankles were really starting to ache and the only way I could have seen over the top of the grass was with a submarine periscope!
The tall grass and narrow track eventually subsided, as did my cursing. We were soon onto open moorland that looks like this:
Part of the race route
Please don’t let its beauty fool you. All of the divots, tussocks, rocks and rabbit holes in England had somehow all ended up on our race route. It was relentless. It was brutal. I hated it. I screamed. A lot. Every single step I took was met with a stumble. It took all of my focus and energy just concentrating on where my feet were and where the next step should be. Any time I tried to lift my head to look up I stumbled. Thankfully the whole route was incredibly well-marshalled and flagged so I didn’t have to worry about getting lost. There must have been hundreds of bright orange flags, each one a little beacon of hope pulling me towards that sought-after finish line.
There were bodies down everywhere. It was like a war of attrition. Although I stumbled a lot, I always seemed to be able to correct myself (a combination of having a strong core, sturdy ankles and being incredibly lucky on where my feet had landed). I did have one comedy fall, where I seemed to fly through the air and my face was heading for the ground. I instinctively threw out my arms and seemed to do some sort of demented press-up-come-burpee before running off again. I was seriously ready for this to be over now. Unfortunately others had not been so lucky and had picked up some nasty injuries. I saw a fellow humbug just ahead who was walking and I knew that she must have fallen (there is no way I’d have caught up with this speedy lady otherwise!). I stopped to chat to her and discovered she’d fallen on a rock and grazed her hip quite badly. I offered to walk with her to get some help but she’s a tough cookie and assured me she’d be fine. She could see the finish and take a short cut to get there. I found it really hard to leave her though. Not because I’m some kind of selfless martyr but because I just wanted to get out of this damned hell-hole!
I trudged on and tried to pick up the pace to get this thing over with. I was conscious of some vultures circling above me that could tell I was flagging and were just waiting for me to collapse. Okay, they probably weren’t vultures but they looked really mean! The route went downhill and all of a sudden the terrain seemed to get much better. I was able to open up my stride and actually push on a bit! There was a sharp descent and suddenly we were back on sweet, sweet tarmac. The road took a sharp incline but I was so happy to be able to run freely that I sprinted all the way up, much to the delight of some local spectators. I thanked them for their support and commented about how I felt I was on some sort of twisted version of the Krypton Factor and was expecting Gordon Burns to pop out at any moment.
It would have been far easier doing this!
Come on finish line, where are you?! My heart sank as we were quickly directed off the road and into some sort of foresty hell. The ‘path’ was lined with shoulder-height bracken. This was my view for the next half mile:
I’ve decided I don’t much care for bracken.
Deeper and deeper into the bracken I ran. I was convinced this couldn’t be the right way but the orange flags told me otherwise. All you could see was bracken. Oh and flies. Bracken and flies. I think I started to hallucinate at this point and thought that I was the girl in Jurassic Park. I kept my eyes peeled for T-Rex and velociraptors but thankfully none showed up.
Just as I was beginning to abandon all hope and thought I might actually die out here in this bracken, hiding from dinosaurs, I saw a style with that familiar orange flag. I clambered over the style and the view at the top was glorious – I CAN SEE THE FINISH LINE!!!!!! I threw myself off the style and sprinted up the field until I crossed the line and into sanctuary. I glugged some water and thanked the heavens I was in one piece, until I promptly got attacked by midges. I apologised to those around me for the noises I was making during the race; I screamed most of my way through it and when I wasn’t screaming I was swearing. I checked in with my team mates and thankfully there were no serious injuries. Some nasty cuts and bruises and I’m sure people will be sore for a few days but we will all live to run another day.
For me, it’s really not something I’d care to experience again in a hurry. If you like a challenging fell race then this one is an absolute must. It really does have everything. You feel like you’re out in the middle of nowhere and the scenery is just stunning but there’s no real fear of getting lost (which is something I constantly worry about in a fell race). Go on, give it a go, I dare you. But if you get eaten by vultures or trampled on by a stegosaurus, don’t say I didn’t warn you.