Hodgson Bros. Mountain Relay & British Fell Relays 2018
We were only allocated one team for the Hodgson Brothers Mountain Relay. After some discussion between our esteemed Captains and their closest advisors, it was decided a mixed team was not only the fairest way of fielding runners but, in addition, we also had a fair shot at winning the Mixed Team category.
Charlie Mac had assembled a crack-team of supporters, who would run a loop following the main chunk of each leg and bestow morale-boosting cheers upon the team throughout the relay. The supporters team consisted of: Charlie, David “Dave” Anderson, and Me.
The weather was a bit on the drizzly side but spirits seemed good as various teams assembled in the starting field and we set off early to get ahead.
Belinda & Caroline got things off to a solid start on Leg 1. We encountered Captain Baxter and Mr Holmes in the mists of Leg 2, tearing arse uphill and leaving competitors in their wake. Claire & Rach on Leg 3 were ahead of us by this point but were a strong pairing and their ability was never in any doubt. Being able to stay high and continue from 3 to 4 meant we got ahead again, and while we were helping a struggling runner get round Cofa Pike, James and Neil came careening down the scree and rocketed off up St Sunday’s Crag looking strong.
We realised we had no idea how the race was progressing position-wise until talking to a marshal who said only about 20 teams had come through, which we decided sounded promising. Our support job done to the best of our abilities (despite the merciless wind up on Fairfield) we headed back along the route to the finish to be greeted with the news: 1st Mixed Team!
Top result and well done to those that ran or were involved in the gruelling team-selection process. A hearty thankyou is also very much due to Chris Hodgson and all the volunteers for a successful day’s racing.
We had three teams entered: a Ladies team, and 2 Men’s Teams (A & B respectively). Our ‘A Team’ looked pretty formidable on paper but anything can happen on the day… and we certainly have a history of ‘things’ happening to us. Irrespective of how strong a team is, everything tends to hinge on avoiding anybody doing anything daft. Easier said than done.
I’m reliably informed that the last time we won the Relays was 2003 where we beat Mercia by about 20 seconds… These days, the landscape of fellrunning is rather different. Keswick’s dominance over the past couple of years, coupled with the fact they seem to have some kind of factory-farm breeding programme for fast lads, means they are the team to topple. The consensus from the pre-race discussion in and around the big event marquee was that a strong navigational team might be up for the task… though I didn’t hear P&B get mentioned among the nav-notables – can’t think why…
The race got underway and our Leg 1 runners all set off across the damp field and headed upwards… Rope Hope for the A Team coming back in 4th, Callum Hanson for the B’s in a very solid 19th and Michelle Tenwick for the ladies a little later but still keeping things competitive for the ladies’ field.
Leg 2 is, of course, run in pairs. The now-finely-honed pairing of Joey B and Harry H ramped ‘A’ up into 2nd overall. Crampo and Woodman kept ‘B’ competitive somewhere around 20th. Claire and Rach had a cracking run, with 6th fastest ladies’ pair.
Then came Leg 3, the infamous Nav Leg. An enjoyable challenge for those with navigation ability and a panic-inducing nightmare for those less able. There are many tried and tested techniques for selecting your Leg 3 runners, which mostly consist of short straws being drawn, favours being cashed in, grudges repaid, or life-debts sworn.
Despite our reputation, we do actually have a few runners who can nav pretty well. In fact we have a secretive group of navvers – our NAVSIG (Navigation Special Interest Group) – who’ve been quietly honing their skills over the past year or so, communicating only via the most secure of channels… and occasionally semaphore. Oh, and I suppose having GB Orienteer Jamie among the ranks helps too.
The perfect partner for a strong Orienteer is, of course, someone who infamously got lost in a race mere miles from his home – John H. Given the sage advice of ‘Follow Jamie. Do not touch the Map. Do not even look at the map’ this unlikely pairing sprinted off into the mists. For the B’s it was Charlie and Matthew, and for the Ladies, Caroline and Jo – each of these having plenty of Moutain Trial or OMM-type-event experience.
At this point, at the sharp end of the race, Keswick still had a couple of minutes headstart and were the quickest pair to Checkpoint 1… but from then on, things went slightly awry. The announcement came over the tannoy: “P&B have moved into 1st place. Keswick not been seen since CP1”. As further checkpoints were reached, the lead was maintained, although now (with the advantage of home turf) Ambleside had crept up into 2nd.
A nervous Graham Pierce readied himself on the start line for Leg 4 with the deceptively simple task of bringing the win home conflicting with the knowledge that a Leg 4 screw-up is absolutely classic P&B territory.
As Leg 2 runners still steadily streamed into the finishing field, eyes were drawn to a notably quicker pair who could be seen descending the hillside… Jamie and John crossed the line and passed on to Pierce who shot off like a Gingerbread Bat out of Grasmere.
Belinda and I (fellow Leg 4 runners for our respective teams) counted down the time before the Ambleside pair arrived and noted Pierce had a 2 minute head start. It was in the bag, surely??
In my enjoyment of the sharp-end developments, I almost completely missed Charlie and Matthew’s arrival at the finish field. As I made my way to the changeover point, I found myself panicking, briefly trapped in my own waterproof jacket but managed to peel it off and stuff it in my bumbag at the exact moment a hand reached out to pass over the spirit-baton. You can’t teach that sort of timing.
Trying to find a steady rhythm up the first climb, I realised with some consternation that we were somewhere in the 20s, position wise, and I had Ted from Borrowdale not far behind me. Hugely outside of my ‘middle-of-the-pack’ comfort zone, I tried not to be too rustled by Ted and a few other runners passing me on the up. They all looked so much stronger on the climb! I offered a silent prayer to the Fell gods to not end up haemorrhaging places the whole way ’round the Leg.
Thankfully, once I reached the ridgeline, I was able to pick up the pace and maintain position. As I contoured around the edge of Great Rigg I encountered a long train of runners at the tail end of the Nav Leg and exchanged a few words of encouragement with Caroline & Jo.
Approaching the start of the final descent, Simon Bailey popped out of the bracken with his lad who merrily proclaimed that our A Team had won. Get in. Quite a positive bit of news to be told right at the top of a very enjoyable downhill. Clattering along as fast as my Mudclogs would carry me, I crossed the line to find we’d finished in 26th place overall. Not too shabby for a B Team.
As for my namesake on the A Team, Pierce finished close to 3 minutes clear of 2nd place and appears to have been uncharacteristically modest on the matter. Team effort and all that. I’m not sure any of us quite believed it was something we could pull off.
Traditionally, the Fell Relays are made up of 4 legs, however, a huge number of runners now had to tackle Leg 5: queuing for food. After managing to snaffle one of the last portions of falafel, we caught the medal presentations and shared in a general celebration of the day’s racing.
Well done to Ambleside for organising the whole affair and to all who volunteered of their time and energy. It is, no doubt, an absolutely massive undertaking to host such an event.
There were plenty of runs of note and wins in other categories but I’ve waffled for long enough, so I’ll just say well done to all that ran and enjoyed the day. Huge commiserations, of course, to Keswick who’s nav mishap knocked them out of the medal spots. As they say, fortunes change in the clag…
This is a pretty notable win for P&B and folk are still buzzing from it. Although the fast lads did all the proper graft we consider it a club victory in as much as it represents the payoff of a general club spirit of working hard and mucking in for the team. Our little club does not have the benefit of a large membership base and we’re not in the business of trying to poach stronger runners from other clubs. We don’t have any surprise signings. It’s just the same runners we usually have, who not only happen to be exceptional fell runners, but who for once managed to not get lost, or be injured, or unlucky, or hungover.
And it’s days like these where I feel absolutely chuffed to be wearing a P&B vest.