Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Ennerdale Fell Race 2011 - Where I lost my bottle.

I'm developing a bad habit of turning up for events at the last minute; not only that, I entered Ennerdale just the weekend before after getting in touch with the organiser to check it was ok. We were staying in Wasdale for half term week and I thought it would be a shame to miss the race since I was in the Lakes anyway but I had to secure permission from my better half first.

The weekend before we met up with the Sammons at Hutton Roof for the fell race there, I like that race as much for the food after the race as the route itself. I had quite a good run comfortably beating my time from a couple of years ago but not quite matching my best for this route, I'd like to think that's down to the headwind on the way out than anything to do with my age (denial is a virtue in my book). The Sammons met us again in Wasdale the day after where me and Mark went for a trot up Scafell (not pike!), I enjoyed this run though Mark seemed to be suffering a bit with his legs. I tried to take it easy, not having done any big descents for a while and I didn't want to trash my legs for the week. It's the biggest single drawback of living in the south where fell running is concerned and something I always suffer with when doing big races, the descents really do make a mess of my quads.

I did a couple more runs during the week, I had half a mind to do the Blencathra Race Wednesday evening but it seemed a bit daft driving all that way when there were all the Wasdale hills on the doorstep, plus I think it would have been too much with Ennerdale at the weekend.

My favourite race is a toss-up between Ennerdale and Wasdale, I think Ennerdale probably wins on the simplicity of the route - just run to the head of the valley and back clockwise over most of the tops; however Wasdale has the edge in sheer brutality. I haven't done Duddon yet; I was considering it this year until I found out it was a champs race, they're just not me and since there's always scrambles for entries I think it's better to find something else and leave the place for somebody more keen.

Packing my kit early Saturday I had lost my whistle so I stopped off as Wasdale Head to pick one up from the shop there, it was after 10am when I got back in the car and I have to say I ended up driving like a bit of an idiot to get to Ennerdale Bridge 20 minutes before the start. Rushing around getting my number I got a stern warning from a bloke that the briefing was about to start so I sprinted back to my car to get changed and slap some suncream on since it was quite warm! I was sweating by the time we lined up for the start, still relieved to have made it. I spotted Pauline and said a quick hello before we all set off along the side of Ennerdale Water towards the first climb.

The first few cutoffs are notoriously tight at this race, I would say the first one is harder to make than that at Wasdale so for me it's tough at the beginning to balance going off too fast with taking it steady and risking getting timed out. It seems an age before you start to climb the fell and it was hot, Ian caught and passed me near the top where there was thankfully a nice cooling breeze blowing.

The views were gorgeous with the skies being clear so there would be no problems with navigation it was going to be a case of setting a good pace and keeping the food and water going down, I made the first checkpoint with about 4 minutes to spare which was better than the only other time I have done this race.

From there to Blackbeck tarn it was mostly follow the leader but there were a few bits where I remembered trods that those in front didn't know about. There was a bloke taking pictures at the tarn just before I filled my bottle up:


I ate some of my crisps and peanuts just after here and shortly after on the climb up Green Gable then went to have a drink and my bottle had gone! I couldn't understand it, I swear I'm always careful about dropping anything on the fells so I was really confused when there was no sign of it at all in my bumbag. My confusion turned to concern when I thought about how far was still to go and how little water was available after Kirk Fell, thankfully after chatting to the bloke alongside me who had noticed what I was doing he gave me a small, empty coke bottle to use. In the end I got round on the water that all the marshals had carted onto the peaks; not something I am comfortable with, relying on other people but there you go I made an embarrassing mistake... and costly the bottle had a water filter on it which cost me nearly 40 quid.

I have been racing in Walshes this year, not for any other reason than I bought them a few years back and stopped using them when the insoles fell out on my first run in them. In the interests of economy this year instead of buying a new pair of mudclaw I glued the insoles back in and have been using them. Trouble is I haven't done more than about 3 hours in them and at around this point in the race I started getting telltale hotspots on my feet, something else to worry about!

I had lost sight of everyone in front going over Kirk Fell just like last time so I was then in the same position as two years ago, wondering whether to try going down the scree gully which I have never done before. It must be about the third or fourth time I have been up there and got to what seems like the top of it but the scree just looks like it drops off a cliff. First time I went down a gully around there was in mist and I actually turned back, on this occasion I ended up doing what I did last time in the race which was stick to the 'path' down the crags then cut right a bit further down where the scree is less steep. There was a guy further up the scree who saw me sneaking onto the stones and shouted down: "I knew there'd be an easier way down!", I told him I wasn't sure about that in fact I wasn't sure there *was* an easy way down that side of Kirk Fell at all!

Climbing Pillar I met a couple of blokes from Ellenborough who offered me some water and jelly babies which I was really grateful of, I was pretty thirsty by that point. I was steadily getting slower and feeling a bit low so I stuffed some chocolate coated flapjack in my mouth; I always remember the race notes from a fellrunner magazine a few years back stating that you shouldn't be knackered by Pillar since there's still a long way to go, while not completely spent I was well on my way. Once off the ridge from there the ground gets a lot kinder becoming much grassier with no more big climbs but you only have to look across to Ennerdale Water to see how far you still have to go.

I trudged on running as much as I could, meeting one or two other runners who were suffering badly with cramp and I even got my map out at one point to check I was where I thought I was since there is a shortcut I took last time missing out Caw. Thankfully all the marshals were really helpful providing some water and encouragement though those on Iron Crag told me it was all downhill from there (it's not!).

I turned right instead of left in the woods before Crag Fell but that's not a major error it just meant I had to make my way across deep grass and heather back to the path but other than that it was just a painful trek past the last checkpoint and down that lovely descent to the finish. It's a shame I couldn't make the most of that descent the way my feet and legs felt I just couldn't pick any speed up it was too painful.

The air was blue on reaching the track back to the scout hut due to the guy in front collapsing with cramp, he couldn't believe it had struck in sight of the finish! It's a little tortuous that run in but it's still a fantastic feeling dibbing at the finish and grabbing a bite to eat with plenty tea and juice. I was about 10 minutes slower than 2 years ago which was a bit disappointing but I'm not complaining; I can't say I have trained as hard this year so far... that's right... blame the training... nothing to do with my age.

I'm still in love with this race; long distance fellrunning doesn't get much better, I couldn't thank the organisers, marshals and everyone else involved with putting it on enough. Next for me hopefully is the Great Lakes Run, another race with a cracking route across some rugged terrain in preparation for this year's Wasdale which I have entered once again, it'll be my third one.

As per usual lots of good shots can be found on Ian's blog. Thanks also to Paul Dobson and Sharp Images for taking pictures on the day.


  1. A great account of a great race - one day maybe I'll be up to it myself!!

  2. Thanks Matt. You should make the journey up one year - these races deserve their 'Lakeland Classic' label.