8 March 2015 – 6.4 m / 853 ft
Marsden. The strange village in the hills, where according to legend the villagers tried to keep spring forever by building a wall around a cuckoo, also the place where I did most of my courting almost 20 years ago, and more recently home to the Ian Roberts Memorial Fell Race.
I’ve done this race for the past two years now, once in a foot of snow and once in glorious sunshine. This year is was wet and miserable. Its also one of the first race dates in the calendar I look out for, but more on the reason for that later.
So once again it was all out the door and on our way, this time before 9:30am in order to get to Marsden and the start time of 11:00. The race HQ is Marsden Cricket club which is situated on a hillside above the village. Parking is plentiful and free and the entry fee is £5 and worth every penny.
About 15 minutes before the start were all summoned to make the ten minute walk even further up the hill to where the start is. Considering there was some other fell race the previous day (Flower Scar I believe it was called) the turnout seems quite good with about 135 runners assembled, though it does seem like I’m the only P&B’er out today.
The race starts on a decent track and is fast and flat but this only lasts for about half a mile before the fun begins. Welcome to tussocks country. The next couple of miles are spent battling the tussocks and bogs of Marsden Moor. The route gains height up to the reservoirs but you hardly notice this as all effort is spent concentrating on staying upright.
We leave the tussocks behind after joining the Pennine Way and it’s from this point I can see that a couple of lads have broken away from the front followed by a chasing pack of about 8 or 9 runners.
I’m back in the next group of runners which is now starting to spread out a bit now the running is a bit easier on the flagstones of the Pennine Way.
Another short area of tussocks and a road crossing is then followed by the main assent of the race; Pule Hill, a short but very steep climb straight up to the trig point. Coming off the top it’s a gentle decent on a good footpath where you can pick up a bit of speed (and a couple of places) before a sharp right turn back into tussock country. Another half mile or so trying to keep on your feet until you’re right back on the track where it all began. With the clubhouse now in sight you think, as I did the first time I ran this race that you’re almost home. But this race has a bit of a sting in its tail.
Running along the starting track again (this time a bit slower) and back across the moor, you quickly realise that you’re running away from the clubhouse/finish line, along with wondering if this uphill section is now steeper than first time around. After a short while though the route does change and it’s a nice fast descent down the valley.
A very steep descent brings you to the stream in the clough followed by an equally steep ascent (on hands and knees by now) up the other side. Crossing a couple of fields and it’s another steep descent back down to another crossing of the same stream. This time there’s a marshal on hand shouting out to take care as it’s a very slippery crossing. A quick nod to the marshal in recognition of his warning, whilst secretly thinking ‘what’s he on about, its only a small stream to traverse’ and that’s it I’m almost across. The next thing I know is i’ve gone arse over tit and find myself lying flat on my back in the middle of the stream. I sheepishly get up and limp out of the water, answering the marshals concerns with ‘Aye, ill be fine’, not noticing the blood now escaping from my leg.
A final scramble up the other side of the clough and there’s another marshal telling me its almost over, only 100m to go. A final ‘sprint’ along a footpath rounding a corner and that’s it, the finish comes into sight and is quickly crossed.
Sue quickly tells me I was 12th, not now of course but when she last saw me almost an hour ago just after the start. “Didn’t you hear me shouting?”, “Yea but I didn’t know who it was” I reply “I was too busy trying not to fall over”. It later transpires that I was 19th, so not too bad really and slowly improving.
A quick change of clothes and back to the clubhouse for the real reason we make this annual trip to Marsden. Cake, and plenty of it. Quite a few fell races provide a bit of a buffet afterwards but none on the scale of this one in terms of cake. For a small donation you are treated to table after table of cake (along with a few sandwiches and other savouries).
As we appear to be the last ones left still in the clubhouse after everyone else has gone home, one of the organisers comes over to us with two large plates full of more cake. “You may as well take this home with you, it’ll only go in the bin otherwise” she says. Better than winning a prize!!
Photos c/o Woodentops