Scafell Pike Fell Race 2015 - By Calvin Ferguson
The title says it all on this occasion.
We often choose to challenge ourselves and enter in to battle against the hills and mountains, after all, that's a major part of fell running, arguably that's what fell running is!
So, I thought, well if I'm going to climb England's highest mountain for the first time, why not race it? Why not do the fell race that takes in the mountain itself and climbs all the way to the summit of England. Well, I found the race on the FRA calendar and posted off my entry form & entry fee and there we had it, I was up on the pre-entered athletes list on the CFRA website.
My biggest amount of race ascent was on the Kentmere Horseshoe, around 3,300 feet, but Scafell Pike fell race is touching on 3,000 feet...not much difference you may think, but, Kentmere is over double the distance of the Scafell race & a lot of other factors come in to play. Scafell gives you around 1 mile at the start which is runnable, before you hit the climb up towards Lingmell. It works out at around 2,500 feet of ascending over 2 miles which also sends you over various types of terrain - grass, rocks, boulder fields, a couple of streams and a few bogs. For a "short" race, it really does have it all.
For the 2015 race, it was Saturday September 19th, race start was 1pm, me & Simon Taylor set off from Darwen around 10am, giving us about an hour to prepare once we arrived at Wasdale Head camp site. Once we'd arrived in the Lakes, the drive towards Wasdale is a stunning one, surrounded by the high hills of Scafell range, Wasdale and the Wasdale screes with only the odd cloud floating around and the stunning Wastwater lake (the deepest lake in England) in front of us. We took a 5 minute car stop to take a few photos, stretch the legs and just to have a look around. No matter how many times you visit the Lake District, it just never gets old.
The weather was very promising. I'd read up about the fell race itself and it was usually blessed with great weather, although at the post race presentation we found out that one year it was a white out, with only 10 runners turning up to race a re-arranged route in pure snow (and yes, it was still run in the middle of September then too). I think that'd be fun, providing you know your way to the summit!
Once we'd registered and had a stretch of the legs, we were all kitted up and ready to go. Full kit for this race, for obvious reasons and a few jaffa cakes just before the off, which I've done a few times now, seems to give me a little boost. I'd been buzzing all week for this race and was in a determined mood to push myself for the full length. With this being race number 61 of the season, I've obviously had some bad races and some fantastic ones, in terms of how I ran, how I felt and sometimes my time/position...although the latter rarely ever matters that much to me at the moment as I am merely a beginner on the fell racing scene, both in terms of my own personal experience and the amount of time I have trained/raced for. After all, a lot of the racers on the fells have actually ran longer than I have been alive, so that puts things in to perspective (and will possibly make them feel really old, haha!).
As mentioned earlier, we set off and the first mile was runnable, I went through that in around 10 minutes, climbing about 260 feet, a very tame amount of ascending compared to what had been carved up ahead of us over the past few thousands of years. It was through a couple of fields out of the Wasdale Head camp site, crossing some streams and rocky sections along the way but nothing to be concerned about, a nice warm up in fact. The sun was shining and with no breeze it felt hot!
Mile 1 to 2 was drastically different in comparison, climbing over 1,500 feet. This was mainly up a steep, grass climb, very much a hands on knees effort but I felt strong and was overtaking quite often. I've done this a few times lately and as my self confidence on climbs isn't the best (I doubt my ability to climb at speed too often), I find myself thinking "am I going too fast for my own good here?". Regardless, I carried on at the same pace and continued to pass others, including my club mate Simon, which I didn't ever expect to do at any point in the race. I'd taken regular glances up to the peak of the slope but only to make sure I was still navigating a decent line, but I was catching other racers at a good speed.
Once we got up on to Lingmell, parts became runnable which was a relief after powering through a fell walk for around 20 minutes, with only the odd jog here and there, in the 17 degrees heat (felt a lot, lot warmer than that though, I can assure you!) but I was glad I'd opted for "vest is best", as usual. We hopped over a stile and I could again see most of the runners strung out in front of me, snaking towards the top.
Then, the runners then started to split, taking various different routes up towards Scafell and the ridges below it's summit. This is where local knowledge and experience really does benefit you as a fell racer. I could tell which people had done it before and you can see the people who are experienced, they were taking much cleaner lines than I was, and, finding the terrain to run on, where as I found myself hopping through relatively long grass and then having to cross a river, obviously slowing me down, while the others to my right hand side where still running at pace. Not to worry, I was still closely followed by Simon along with a couple of others and we just pushed on as we could see the ridges that lead up to the Pike.
I had 47 minutes on my watch when eventual winner, Danny Hope of Horwich, came steaming past off the tops. That is some running, he hit the summit at around 40 minutes and won the race in 1 hour 7 minutes, only 3 minutes before he had finished, I would reach the peak of England's highest mountain.
This now became a different ball game. The terrain was totally different, just a boulder field and walkers filled every line I could see that would take me towards the trig point at the summit. I couldn't see much further than 50 metres in front of me at this point, the cloud had engulfed the tops and it was just a case of following the cairns. The most amusing moment of my race came when I spotted a cairn, surrounded by a good 20-30 walkers, a sudden rush of blood and a glance at the watch, I thought; "yes! 57 minutes and I'm basically at the summit, that's a good run!!!", so I picked up the pace to running speed, thinking I was there...subsequently it wasn't Scafell Pike trig point at all, it was just a group of walkers who'd stopped to rest. Damn!
It was in fact another 7 minutes after my false dawn that I reached the trig point, but I'd done it in 1 hour 4 minutes, I was happy with that. I unpicked my numbered token and threw it in the bag, to notify the organisers that I'd reached the summit safely. Simon was only a couple of seconds behind me, we shook hands followed by a swift "well done, mate" and set off back down, I knew he'd kick my ass and beat me to the finish so I was happy to be the first one to the summit. That's the only down side I see to doing the race as your first trip up England's highest mountain...there wasn't any time to stay and take in what you'd achieved, not that you could see any further than 20 metres away at this point, to be honest.
I was pleasantly surprised I'd beaten Simon to the summit as I don't put myself down as a strong climber, being one of the heavier fell runners but I knew the descent was more suited to Simon and the shorter runners, so, being 6 foot 1 didn't help me here! I picked quite a good line coming back off the summit though and through the boulder field I danced, this was possibly the most mentally sapping part of the route, concentration was at 110%. Within 10 minutes I was off the rocks and back on to the grass, some good running to be had for the next mile, which was down hill, of course!
I love a good down hill run but once I'd hit the back end of Lingmell, the descent from there was really difficult. Normally it's the uphill sections that I find tough but this was so steep to run down it was verging on -50% gradient in parts, meaning my stride was minimal and I really did feel like I was dancing at this point and my thighs were on fire. It felt like I'd taken the same amount of steps to descend this short section of the course as I had to run the rest of it, it was that harsh. After half a mile of steep descending, spanning around 10 minutes, I found myself on the path at the bottom which would eventually lead me back to Wasdale Head camp site.
I jumped off the hill in relief but my legs weren't agreeing. They turned to jelly as soon as I tried upping the pace to something that resembled a reasonable running speed and I struggled to even keep my footing for a minute or two but then managed to pick up some pace at sub 8/mi to carry myself back to the finish for a race time of 1 hour 42 minutes, so I was 1:04 to the summit and eventually 38 minutes back down & Simon managed 1 hour 37 so he easily gave me a pasting on the way back down.
As predicted, Simon beat my back down easily but he was waiting with some very warmly received flap jack and orange juice that the race organisers had provided. Definitely some of the best post race refreshments I've experienced so far.
We'd done it! 2 lads from Darwen had raced the biggest mountain England had to offer and survived with no injuries to report and it has gone down as a significant "checkpoint" on my running journey so far. I already have the race pencilled in for next year and will be aiming for sub 1 hour to the summit and then obviously a quicker finishing time too. Looking back on my racing line I could've chosen better routes but being a first timer on the race and the mountain itself had it's obvious drawbacks, this being one of them. Below you can see my running line, slightly varied in places and cost me valuable minutes but they are all good lessons to learn.
I will use this as a great experience, definitely one of my most enjoyable so far, as I've said before, you can learn something new both about yourself and your technique, on every single fell race. My continuing education and changes of scenery, keeps everything fresh and allows for an alert mind on every race, allowing no margin for error on sometimes the harshest of terrain, particularly in this case.
Finally, I would just like to thank all involved in the organisation and set up of the race. CFRA who set it up and the people who take the time and effort to make sure it can happen. Those wonderful people stood at the summit waiting for us all to reach the top and take a note of our numbers so we can enjoy a wonderful afternoon on the fells and a very generous prize table to the respected winners on the day (I wasn't one, I may add). Also a thanks to everybody on social media who sent good luck messages pre-race and also post-race congratulations messages too, along with Ascendancy Apparel who continually support me on this adventure & Runderwear who provide me with arguably my most used piece of kit, haha!
So, until the next one...
Thanks for reading,