7th June 2014 – 21 (ish) miles / 4,300 feet (no-one is checking in case its not enough for an A race) / British & English Championship Counter Race
The calendar said Ennerdale. The forecast said “take a snorkel”. So we were pleasantly surprised when we parked up at Ennerdale Scout Hut with only cloud and showers in the sky. Charlie, Wharfdale’s Dave Maguire and his mate Eric the Viking poured themselves out of my tiny car and onto the wet grass, this time without grounding the door as they had back in Leeds. We couldn’t actually see the view across Ennerdale Water to the mountains beyond, but we knew they were there.
Hopes sprung up: “its brightening up over there…” “Looks alright on the tops, I reckon I might get round after all” and so on… You can’t enjoy the fells of Northern England and not expect a soaking at least ¾ of the time, but looking up from the concentrated contours of your route map, across the murky expanse of rocky peaks you have ahead of you over 23 miles, it’s hard not to want just a little patch of blue sky to dilute the Cumbrian monsoon you know is coming.
Given the conditions and forecasts of much worse to come, the organisers made the decision to switch to a contingency route. Out went most of the peaks and the ridge running, in came the valleys and the long, long, long, long track down the valley from Blackmail pass all the way to the finish. “Ah, looks loads easier,” people said, crowding round the marked up map in the rain. “Are you sure this is still an A race?” “Looks more like a trail race to me…”
So far, so good, and we got ready for the start. At this point, Niall and Claire showed up, having stayed in Ambleside to save time in the morning and then arriving after everyone else (to be fair, it’s usually me that’s late). So off we went, skirting around the ridge of Great Borne and Red Pike and heading over to Buttermere. Despite being significantly flatter, there was still plenty of climb in this route, and much of it was across foot-sucking mud.
After traversing back over into the Ennerdale Valley, and on up to Green Gable, this course wasn’t so much the easy option as the less hard one. Even the flat miles at the end were draining, although seeing Joss Naylor with the dibber at the final checkpoint reminded you that it wasn’t so bad after all and you should stop whinging and crack on.
At the sharp end, Rob Hope was determined not to lose out in a sprint for the third time and turned on the speed right at the end to outpace Calder Valley’s Karl Gray and take home the winner’s trophy: a big lump of slate which weighs about a ton, presented by Joss Naylor (“I won Ennerdale when I was 40 too!” Joss shared with recently-turned-quadragenarian Rob). A great result!
Rob said of his victory:
It was a slightly unusual feeling to win given the alternative course but I was still pleased to be strong enough at the end of what was still a very tough event. Good to win a Champs race a week after turning Vet 40.“
Read Rob’s write-up on the race over on the Mud Sweat & Tears site’s Ennerdale report.
As for the rest of our lot, Niall was running strongly, back to form and obviously benefitting from sleeping in. He came in as second male counter, slightly ahead of Charlie who had never looked back after passing me, and who also passed an uncharacteristically lower-down-the-ranks Darren Kay before the finish.
Claire had a solid run despite coming back from injury, with her and Rachel making the tactical decision to run together for much of the race – until a rogue rock split the pair up. Rach tells us:
I was enjoying running with Claire, as she pulled away up towards Green Gable I felt confident I could catch up when it levelled out. So, when Claire turned to check where I was I shouted to keep pushing on. As planned when it flattened out I picked up the pace. Within moments I clipped my toe on a rock which for some unknown reason sent a shock wave up my right leg and straight down my left. My calves turned as hard as bullets, I toppled over shouting many expletives, as runners both checked I was ok & jokingly chastised my bad language.
Almost immediately three chaps came to my aid. An older chap who wasn’t in the race rubbed my calves for 2 or 3 minutes and kept saying, “they’re just not releasing”. Another running poured nuun tablets into my hand, which I licked, so I didn’t have to faff with my camelback and another chap, a Marshall, I think gave me a swig of flat coke with salt in it. I thanked them for their assistance, and hobbled on until some normality returned to my shredded legs which was shortly before the return to Black Sail Hut.“
At least she didn’t have to worry about downing a pint at the finish this time.
Our third lady Jo Schreiber said afterwards that she found it tough going and wanted to give up in parts but knew she was required for the ladies’ team, so pressed on with true P&B grit.
Meanwhile, after about 17 miles I was very tired, and the dregs of my lingering cold had metastasised into a completely knackered cardiovascular system. I had difficulty putting one foot in front of the other and a staggering gait usually seen outside the pub on a Friday night. I even found it hard chewing jelly babies. I was shattered, broken. I managed an indistinct grunt whenever somebody passed or I saw a marshal.
After an endless meandering rutted trail over tree roots and boulders, the end came. Tape. Trees. People shouting. And a dibber on the line. NEVER has a hot sausage roll tasted so delicious…
Thanks to the organisers and all the marshals, who did a great job in bad conditions and despite the change of route at short notice laid on a fantastic event.
- Rob Hope – 1st 2:52:16
- Niall Bourke – 67th 3:26:48
- Charlie McIntosh – 101st 3:37:14
- Darren Kay – 117th 3:44:10
- Alex Jones – 124th 3:49:15
- Claire Green – 188th (18th Lady) 4:13:03
- Rachel Pilling – 226th (29th Lady) 4:33:34
- Jo Schreiber (waiting on final result)