26 Feb 2017 Ilkley Moor Fell Race – 5 miles / 1316 ft
It’s an overcast Sunday morning in Ilkley, not too cold and just the slightest hint of rain in the air as I wait excitedly by the fence at the top of Cowpasture Road. Any moment now approximately 300 fell runners will come thundering down into the dip behind the trees and right past where I’m standing, about half a mile into this year’s Ilkley Moor race.
Here they come now, two Ilkley Harriers already leading the pack by a good 10 metres. The first of these is Tom Adams. The second man looks as if he arrived too late for the Juniors race and somehow snuck into the seniors before the officials could stop him. This is Euan Brennan. He could become the greatest fell runner who has ever lived.
Gratifyingly, there are two P&B vests near the front of the pack, in about 5th and 10th places. Most likely Graham Pearce and Neal Crampton, but they are through too quickly for me to be sure. The taller one is probably Pearce. More frantic scanning for familiar faces as the runners stream by. David Anderson is next, Martin Bullock slips under the radar. Maybe he was in the red Pacers vest. There’s Stef Wilson with a drink bottle – surely she’ll not have time to drink? Haven’t spotted Callum or John. Perhaps they couldn’t make it.
Shortly afterwards, there’s a serious bottleneck as the field emerges back onto the moor. There’s no other way round, so about 40 runners just have to stand there as if they’re queueing at the bar.
The next vantage point is near the little footbridge over Backstone Beck. This is a great race for spectators and there are plenty of them, lining the banks up and down Cow Close Gill. The Tom Adams fan club is out in force to welcome their hero with plenty of encouragement as he skips easily down and across the bridge, already with a huge lead. The next bit is a steep, muddy, slippery scramble up through the bracken, back up the other side of the gill. He runs it all. Already he’s almost out of sight and still no sign of anyone else. This is just ridiculous. I’m sure some of it’s to do with home advantage (or ‘LK’) but today he just looks a class apart. Let the greatest athletes in the world come to Ilkley – they will not beat him over this course.
Now Euan Brennan and Graham Pearce come into view. Brennan is slightly ahead, but then he takes a tumble and he’s down into third. I’m amazed he is still right up there. There’s plenty of support for Graham as well as he crosses the bridge – “come on Graham!” “Well done Graham, keep going!” etc.
Tom Adams is still not quite out of sight, and for a moment I wonder if Graham will catch him. Then there are more runners not far behind. Neal Crampton is in a group of about five who are all vying for seventh place at the moment. “He was going to join us,” rues a Wharfedale man, “… until Graham got into him!”
The only person able to match Adams’s performance uphill is the man from Achille Ratti , who has an amazing ‘speed scrambling’ technique that’d put a cockroach to shame.
David and Stef pass through, both looking strong (I’m too shy to cheer for Dave in case it isn’t him), then it’s off to the finish to see them all come in. The crowd there is reasonable but not enormous. Shirley and Dave Hodgson are there to dignify proceedings.
I miss the winner, whose margin over Ted Mason in second is nearly 4 minutes. Insane for a 40 minute race.
Graham Pearce comes home in an excellent third place, looking pretty calm and composed. A businesslike performance. A bit of a gap, and then comes Sam Watson. Another gap, and then, down the final dip comes Euan Brennan. He looks absolutely exhausted, but he manages to keep it together and hold off Harrogate’s Chris Miller to take fifth place. To my ignorant eyes this is an incredible performance that should send shockwaves through the sport, but for all I know he and everyone else was expecting him to win today. The expression on his face in the excellent Woodentops photo suggests he was pleased with it. The expression on Neal Crampton’s face as he arrives in about 12th suggests that it wasn’t his day today, but I couldn’t see him afterwards to ask him.
Ribble Valley Harriers have brought a strong women’s team – Helen Glover, Lou Powell-Smith and Emma Taylor finishing first, second and fifth.
A special mention at this point of Paul Murgatroyd of the mighty South Leeds Lakers. This is his first fell race – “first, and possibly last!” and as far as I know, the first fell race of anyone representing that club. South Leeds Lakers have only been going about two years. They’re one of those clubs that have grown out of Parkrun (Cross Flatts in this case), full of people who’ve only recently got into running. Paul, like me, is one of those people who started out running 5K in about 24 minutes and is now inching very close to that magical 20 minute mark. He has a storming run today and does his club proud, arriving home under the hour mark with a badge of honour on his knee. He even finishes ahead of Helene Whitaker, who arrives at the finish line like a film star with barely a speck of mud on her.
Most of the runners arriving at the finish have clearly gone over in the mud at least once. David Anderson testifies that it was very slippery around the course, and “I don’t know, but I just wasn’t feeling it out there today… you’re coming down that final descent thinking ’aw good, this is the last bit now’ – and then you have to double back on yourself!”
Stef Wilson, in marked contrast has a huge smile on her face, having enjoyed it immensely. I ponder what it is – after a sprawling 23 mile epic like Rombald’s Stride – that brings her back to the same hill three weeks later for a 5 mile bunfight? “It’s because it’s near”. (She could easily have given me a curious look and said, “because it’s a fell race, and I’m a fell runner. Isn’t that really obvious?” but doesn’t). Surely it’s also a great course. Now I’ve seen it I really want to run it next time. For Stef, it’s also maximum championship points. Bonus.
Graham Pearce 3rd 41:20. Neal Crampton 13th 44:32. David Anderson 95th 54:58. Stephanie Wilson 227th 01:07:11. (Full Results)
Photos c/o woodentops.org.uk