Well, what a fantastic race and experience! And with 1 understandable exception that we’ll come to, everyone had a great time, including the A&T Fell Champs debutants in Anthony Hart, Carl Murray and Phil Spencer-Gray.
Things started inauspiciously with 50 mph winds and 10cm of snow being forecast and as we drove over we wondered, if the race might be cancelled, especially when the car started rocking in the wind as we neared our motorway turnoff. Safety is always at the forefront of the organisers’ minds, but it still takes a lot to cancel a fell race and it was clear that they had done a route inspection before the start and, whilst tricky in places, it would be runnable. Full kit requirements were also in force, with kit inspections mandatory for all. Luckily I had plenty of whistles to hand out for those of the 7 plucky A&T runners who needed one. It would have been a bit annoying to travel up to Littleborough and then find that you couldn’t run for the lack of a whistle. And I have more whistles than I can sensibly blow!
We had a latish start time of 11:30 and the hope was that the weather would have calmed down a little bit by then. However, just before the start of the race the snow started falling again, so waterproofs were donned. The race started and finished from Littleborough RUFC, and after a standard pre-race briefing whilst standing in a couple of inches of mud at the edge of the rugby pitch, we were off! It’s well known that the weather up on the tops can be quite different from that down below, so the driving snow and near minus temperatures at the start of the Windy Hill fell race clearly meant that sub-tropical temperatures should be expected on the fells. Unfortunately I must have misunderstood how that works, since the wind speed increased and the snow started to mix with hail the higher I got. On the plus side the long drag up the 4 miles of hills meant that I soon warmed up nicely and I was forced to take off my waterproof jacket within the first mile.
Little did I know that some drama was unfolding behind me, as Kerry took the term “fell” racing rather too literally, tripping over within about a mile of the start and having to retire hurt with a badly scrawped leg. Hope you’re back running soon Kerry. But she wasn’t the only one who fell over during that race, I fell over about 5 times, including 1 occasion where I was leapfrogged from behind as I crumpled unexpectedly into a foot of mud under the snow crust. Since I also landed squarely on a frozen hump of ground I now have some unfortunate bruising in the nether regions that I can’t really share on social media without being arrested. Anthony was in ordinary running shoes, so gawd knows how he managed, it must have been an absolute nightmare in the snow.
Having climbed Windy Hill, which this year definitely seemed a lot longer and higher than it did previously, there’s a sharp right onto the Roman road, which is a narrow and twisty set of rock slabs set into the ground as a path across the moors. I thought these might be icy, but the snow completely blanketed everything, reducing slippiness, but making it difficult to make out the trail, which wasn’t helped by some poor visibility and the fact that the guy in front of me had by now disappeared into the clag. I spent the next 20 minutes zig-zagging across trying to find footprints and keep to the path, whilst my left ear slowly turned into a block of ice. Strangely, and with a sense of déjà vu, all I could think about was woozles and was hoping that I wouldn’t discover that I was going in circles. Luckily the woozles didn’t appear and after the Roman road section there was a trip over a high, blowy and icy motorway bridge, then the “downhill” bit to the end, which turns out only to be downhill on average, with a lot of undulations and an occasionally tricky mudbath of a path, then back under the motorway bridge to the final straight over a stile and across the rugby pitches.
There was some confusion with results after the end, since although chip-timed, the chips were subjected to lower temperatures than they are designed for (-4C was recorded), so a couple of results are race time rather than chip time. Well done to everyone who took part, A&T results are as below and the fell champs are updated on the A&T website:
Tim Campbell 01:12:01
Simon Ford 012:16:38
Carl Murrary 01:26:47
Keiran Lomas 01:29:37
Philip Spencer-Gray 01:30:00Anthony Hart 01:33:50