It all started the Monday before the fell inter counties. A quick trip to Sainsburys Local in Aberdeen, where I am working at the moment, for some milk, I noticed my phone buzzing – Dave and Eileen Woodhead were trying to get hold of me. Must be after someone’s number I thought. Anyway, rang them back and the conversation started with “you’re not eligible to run for Lancashire are you?”. “Ugh NO” was my response. “That’s alright then, do you want to run for Yorkshire this weekend?”. Now I am a massively proud Yorkshire woman and Yorkshire being the size of a small it country contains most of the top fell runners in the country. Turns out Helen Berry and Vic Wilkinson are focusing on the World Long Distance Running Championships so my run the week before at Up the Nab, taking 8th place in the English Champs race, meant I was one of the next people on the list. I didn’t even care if I had been invited to see the Queen the same day I would have not turned down the chance to run for Yorkshire. I was embarrassingly enthusiastic on the phone. Paid for my milk and then started to get very nervous and excited. I was going to get a Yorkshire vest for the first time!
During the week, I didn’t exactly have the best preparation – I had 2 trips up to Aberdeen and back and frankly my legs were battered after Up to Nab. A few shuffles and a lot of foam I just tried to recover and be as best prepared as I could be.
Up early and off on the Saturday with Niall doing a sterling job chauffeuring me to the race. Several jam sandwiches and cups of coffee later we arrived in Llanberis. The sun was shining, there was a nice cool breeze and county flags were up. Looked set to be a great day in the Welsh Mountains, and after having a dreadful race the last time I was here for the Maesgwym muddle, I was determined to banish the Welsh demons (or should that be dragon?).
At registration, I was greeted by the King of Yorkshire, Dave Woodhead, and his wife Eileen. In my head I was handed the Yorkshire vest as if I was being knighted. I started to get very excited, and more than a bit nervous. My main aim was to run as hard as I could and not be the last Yorkshire finisher by miles, especially in an elite team with Holly Page, Sharon Taylor, Katie Walshaw and Georgia Malir.
A quick warm-up up the hill and we were set for the off. This year’s Inter Counties race is the first proper fell race in the last few years. It starts with a long half an hour climb to the top of Moel Elio. Living nestled between Ilkley Moor and Otley Chevin, I live in the land of the runnable climb so my strategy was to go as hard as I could up the first climb and then hope to hang on as long as possible on the sharper climbs and tough descents at the back end of the race.
The first climb started and I was in the mix in maybe the top 10, behind Katie Walshaw and the Cumbrian Elites but ahead of the other Yorkshire ladies. Maybe I have set off a bit fast, I thought. Never mind I just kept pushing. As the climb steepened towards the top, the others gained on me and Holly and Sharon passed me out. My main aim was to try to keep them in sight and keep pushing.
The first descent I managed to not lose any places and ran and walked up the next couple of climbs, digging in as hard as I could, running for a count of ten then walking for a count of ten. Trying my best not to walk too much as in recent races I just simply cannot walk fast enough and get passed out.
The penultimate climb I could feel myself fading a bit, I had a gel, had a great cheer from Niall with his borrowed Yorkshire flag, and although was passed out by a couple more ladies, I was determined to hold onto my position.
My legs were screaming and my lungs hurt and my heart felt like it was going to burst out of my chest up the last long climb. I knew I was likely to lose places on the last steep, grassy descent so I knew I needed to put in the effort here. I managed to hold ground near enough up the climb and no one else passed me. A success on this sort of gradient compared to previous races.
The last descent I went as hard as I ever have. I kept telling myself not to give up, I tried to keep my feet light and fast and remember what I had been told about descending well. To my utter astonishment I passed the girl in front of me and seemed to be gaining on Sharon – she even looked back when we hit the stream at the bottom (not that she had anything to worry about). Then came the bog and the wheels came off, my feet sucked into the mud and the legs wouldn’t move. The girl I passed came past me and stormed off down the runnable track towards the finish.
I looked at my watch. 6 miles. That meant there were 2 more miles of track. I just had to keep pushing. I tried to think I was setting off on a 5k race, keeping the legs turning over and good running form. I don’t think I was going very fast but I was determined to push myself as hard as possible to hold onto my position. I could see Sharon Taylor and Emma Gould ahead of me. I shouldn’t be anywhere near them at this stage of an 8 mile race. There was no chance that I would catch them. But I was determined not to lose any more places. I wanted to do myself and Yorkshire proud.
That track has to be the hardest bit of flattish running I have ever done. We headed up a slight rise and I thought I might pass out, my peripheral vision had started to blur. My body was screaming to stop but there was no way I was going to. I saw Eileen Woodhead taking photos (I dread to think what they look like), I sounded a bit desperate when I asked her how much further – “just to that corner, then down the hill to the finish”. Thank god. Nearly there. Got to the corner and let gravity take me to the end. I didn’t lose any more places. I had finished. In a Yorkshire vest.
I could barely walk at the finish, I don’t think I have ever pushed myself that hard in a longish fell race. Ben Mounsey and Helen Buchan handed me a water bottle. I didn’t even say thank you (sorry!) I didn’t even know that Ben had won it. I sat down at the end of the finish funnel. Exhausted. I actually started to cry. Tears of Yorkshire pride. What a day. I honestly never thought I would get a senior Yorkshire vest (I didn’t run as a junior – I was a sailor, but that is another story). And to be selected to run for Yorkshire in fell running was a dream come true. I had given it everything I had and was so chuffed to not be too far behind the other girls on the team.
Once I had composed myself (didn’t want the King to see me – I imagine he would have told me to pull myself together or something of that Yorkshire straightforwardness ilk), I found out that Ben had won the race, and the men took team gold. Our women’s team were silver – the Cumbria girls running away with first, second and third places and gold overall. Holly Page had a storming run, using her incredible hill strength and amazing descending skills to pass out Katie Walshaw and be the first Yorkshire finisher I think in 5th. Katie was 7th, Sharon I think was 13th and I was 14th (based on a quick scan of results). Georgia Mailir, our U23, and previous junior European Mountain running Champion would have totally annihilated all of us on a flatter course with any more running in it, came home in 26th.
Silver in the intercounties – and we were missing some of our top runners. Wow.
Holly mentioned to me that even though it was the top 3 to count for the team, she had previously been 4th finisher and got a medal. At the presentation it was true – my first ever time representing Yorkshire and a silver intercounties medal. What a day.
Hopefully I didn’t embarrass myself too much in front of the rest of the more seasoned Yorkshire team and Dave and Eileen. It really meant so much to don the county vest and be part of the team. I honestly thought a Yorkshire selection would always be out of reach. This has to be one of my most proud running achievements to date. What a day. GO YORKSHIRE!!!!
(Photos c/o Woodentops.org.uk)