Monday, 30 April 2012

Fellsman 2012

61 miles, 4200m, 13h17m, 12th out of 500

Summary Report :
Very pleased, few downs but felt very good at the end. Extremely tough if you don't know what it's like! I did. 20 hypothermia cases lead to the event being stopped at 2am.

Full Report :
1. Believe the Hype
Even in ultra fell running circles, the Fellsman is regarded as one of the toughest races on the UK calendar. It's a race that you can't just plod through. It's too hard. You can't just wing it - some 30-50 mile races you can.

The 61 miles is misleading, as it is substantially harder than the Long Mynd Hike (50 miles) which I did around 5 years ago. I did that in 9hours, it took me 50% longer to do this which is only an extra 10 miles.

Often 50% of the entrants drop out. Some can't hack the 14,000ft of climbing mixed with the tussocky bog combined with running potentially into the night.

There's also the fact that it covers two of the Yorkshire 3 Peaks before the racing has even got going. Oh, and then it puts an even steeper one in straight after (Gregareth).

Starting Ingleton (left) then taking a big horsehoe round
to Threshfield (bottom right)
On a more positive note, it is a route which encompasses the high tops of much of Yorkshire grandest scenery - Upper Wharfedale and into Dentdale / Kingsdale. We saw the Lakes and the Howgills. It also boasts legendary checkpoint feed stops manned by local Scout groups.

2. The Race up to Dent (~20 miles)
If there was one thing in my head going into this race it was ... "gotta be very very fresh at Dent"

The Calderdale Hike gave me confidence going into this one and lets face it I needed it as I've not really trained over 15 miles in a week for many years !  4 years ago, I'd reccied all of the sections from Fleet Moss onwards with Saul and Graham (but never started then due to my tummy problems), so I knew the kind of terrain. With hindsight, that was invaluable as that section is hard, very hard.

On race day - amazingly after a week of non stop rain, we woke to blue skies.  Very strong winds, but blue skies.  Nice to sit next to Stuart Walker on the bus over - nice chap with a fair bit on his plate over the next few months !

After gathering on the sports field in Ingleton, it soon became apparent that the wind was from NE and it was bloody cold standing around. Still, the organisers promised us 100% that it would not rain, so that was fine then (!)

The pace up Ingleborough was fast, so I stuck with Chris Davies who I knew was a good climber. A group of 20-25 in front clearly fancied their chances with Jez Bragg and hence there was a big group around him. Near the top, I stopped to looked back - an awesome sight seeing 500 people (well, 475) lined up behind me snaking down the path with views all over Yorkshire under clear blue skies.

Ingleborough is steep and gets steeper. I knew that going over the summit would be 'bracing' as we were currently sheltered from the NE wind. Going onto the summit it was bad - very bad actually, eyes watering and struggling to see where I was treading on the rock strewn summit. No worse than any other race though, so down to the Hill Inn. Again, getting up the Whernside ridge into the wind was very hard work. I think I was in about 25th here and still running with Chris, although he was going faster than I'd have liked !
Yes, we had amazing views like this
ALL DAY !!! (and tussocks like this too sadly)

The next monster climb is Gregareth which is a beauty, getting steeper and steeper. 500m over to the trig control and off again into a 2.5 mile run uphill through bog into the wind - a feeling which I'd get to know very well by the end of the day. But what a run !!!! A lovely ridge run with views to the Lakes and Howgills. On another day a proper horsehoe ridge to explore, not today though. On the way up to Great Coum I knew that Chris was actually running faster than I was so I started to let him pull away.

Looming large in my mind was what I told myself on the start line "gotta be very very fresh at Dent". Dent wasn't now far away - just a 2 mile descent ending in a very rough stony track - Flinter Gill. Now, I felt alright - quite good infact, but was not bristling with energy. My worry was actually the amount of food I was carrying - or lack of it. I'd got

* 14 gels (2-3 per hour so 5-7 hours worth)
* 1 bag jelly babies (3 hours worth) so 8-10 hours worth in total.

I was actually gonna be out for 12-14 so why is it only now that I'd calculated I'd not got enough food on the run - looking back with hindsight it was due to the fact that my new shiny Haglofs rucsac (thanks Pete) could fit ;

* 14 gels
* 1 bag jelly babies

in the well sized waist pockets. I'd also started to notice that all the feed stops were stocking stuff which had wheat in them - something I can eat, but which does give me an upset do I get enough food on board...surely some would stock sweets ???

3. The race after Dent

The Dent checkpoint -
a bit busier than I saw it.
No checkpoints that I saw stocked sweets. Not good news, but some stocked sultanas so I topped up on them but it wasn't enough.

Heading up to Blea Moor with Kev Perry, running was only just about doable when it flattened out. I still pulled away from Kev so I knew he must have been suffering - I think Chris had pulled both of us along slightly too fast on the previous section into Dent.

One thing for it - knock a gel back even though I'd just troughed a load of food at Dent 20 mins ago. The climb to Blea Moor was bad - yes, this was a bonk coming on as I officially reached the first low of the race. Heading up to the summit I was almost seeing stars. Schoolboy stuff really.

Right - neck another gel ! Sadly my water bottle was also low and gels don't really work fully without water. The summit was a bit of a blur so I headed off with Kev 50-100m in front. He pulled away rapidly now, but I knew I had to let him go. Next problem - cramps as I climbed over a fence. I'd not had cramp for years ! Down through tussocks to the woods and finally I lose sight of Kev in front and no one behind so I actually stop to fill my water bottle up from a stream. Now that's exactly what I would have done if I'd been training and not racing. And with hindsight it was exactly the right thing to do - step aside from the race for 2 mins and gain much more time over the rest of the race.

I was pleased to see the Stonehouse checkpoint and I thought I'd try Digestive biscuits to see how they faired on the tummy. Half an hour later and no problems, so I necked two more.

Checkpoint at Dodd Fell, 30ish miles in
You can't see the very strong wind here
This was the turning point in the race for me - well, the top of the never ending Arten Gill was. Energy levels eventually got back to normal and even though Kev Perry had now got 500m on me by Gt Knoutberry, I felt under control. Tussocks and bog seemed easy again - long climbs didn't. I then ran with another guy - Dave until Snaizeholme where he seemed to be struggling, so I started to run with Mark who looked very strong, both of us just behind Simon (Deakin). Coming off Dodd fell Simon went one way and Mark the other - oh no ! I went with Simon, no idea why but it was a good move.

He'd done it a few times before so we followed his normal route. It was absolutely awesome (see track below). We ran 90% of the section from Fleet Moss to Middle Tongue - if not 95%. I was so impressed. Approaching Middle Tongue it was clear that Simon was feeling better than me so I let him go. It was at this point that we overtook Chris who must have been having a bad time as I thought he'd be 30 mins+ in front by now. By Hell Gap, Simon and me had passed about 5+ runners, with Middle Tongue to Hell Gap being 100% runnable - keeping low.

I knew all of the section ahead now and apart from 2 monster climbs, that was it - just energy levels to maintain. Again, I was doing the maths and calculating gels + jelly babies and working out if I had enough hours food left. I did and as soon as I knew that my confidence sky rocketed. God was I pleased ! Cray was a joy - bathed in evening sunshine and a bevvy of smiley faces. Sorry about eating the fruit cocktail out of the saucepan guys - I was pretty focused as I knew it was effectively sugar in syrup - dreamy!
Fleet Moss Summary - we made up at least 5-10 places
with this route - thanks Simon !

I ran with Mark now from here to Park Rash where we got grouped with Simon, Kev and another guy who was doing it for the first time like me. We were so lucky with the grouping as we had no weak members in our 5some. The cold at Park Rash was very bad and the sun hadn't even gone down yet. It was good to get moving up through Gt Whernside and through the snow.

The final section was dispatched comfortably with those beacons being so welcome through the final fields. Nice to see we all held something back for the final sprint (yes, another sprint finish!) to the school - well done to Simon and Mark - cracking pace guys !

4. The Apres Race
It turns out that the race had to be pulled at 2am with 20odd cases of Hyperthermia. The decision was seemingly made at Fleet Moss. Reading around now, lots of people were suffering at all control points with the marshalls making a veyr good decision. We were cold and we were moving pretty fast at dusk. Hats go off to those finishing after us.

Looking back now, I'm very pleased. 13h20 with a headwind for most of it was good and stands me in good stead for sub 13 next year. Nice to have a beer with the 'big guys' at the end too - never thought I'd be in that elusive club !

Results here
Some great shots of the Fellsman here on Nick Ham's blog
Fellsman gpx here (I didn't start it until half way up Ingleborough!)


Nick said...

Great account, Alan. Excellent result too. You have the speed gene for sure. I'm intrigued by your runnable route from Yockenthwaite Moor. I'll have to investigate for next year. ;-)


lord_lordy said...

Well done Alan. Sounds awesome. Must get back to some fell running.

Alan Billington said...

Thanks Nick. Hey it wasn't half as epic as yours though - hats off to you!

John said...

I have done the Fellsman 9 times from the mid 70's to 1991. In 1990 it was a very good preparation for my BGR which I completed at the age of 53. That year I also did the 120 miles Yorkshire 2000 footers, The Haworth Hobble and the 3 Peaks Race.
John Rawnsley

Alan Billington said...

2000 footers ? Serious effort that John. How long did that take you ? Hats off

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