I was returning from Lancashire a few days ago and wanted to break the journey somewhere, I had a look at the FRA calendar to see what the options may be. As the Sedbergh Hill Race was a 11am start, entry on the day and only 4 miles from the M6, it won my vote. This seemed a good idea as I have driven past the Howgills many times on the M6 and never explored them at all.
Arriving in Sedbergh, parking was well directed to the old school about 5 minutes walk from the start. The sun was out, the hills were clear, the church bells were ringing and cricket was being played. Registration was at the football ground with maps of the course available. Given that it was a long category race with 6000 feet of climbing it was time to come up with a race strategy that took into account it had been 4 years since I last did a Category Long Race. So warming up – don’t do one. Sit down and save energy whilst watching everyone else run round the football field. Remember to start slowly, or I will be doing a lot of walking later in the race. Work out a jelly baby strategy. There are six main hills. Say about 3 jelly babies per hill, to be eaten at the bottom of each hill. But take the whole bag full just in case. Water, don’t need too take much, loads of big streams to cross. Navigation – spend warm up time having a good look at the map as the course is not marked although there are 6 checkpoints to reach and keep the map close to hand whilst out.
After a 15 second pre race brief by organiser Jon Broxap, we set off up the lane. Jelly baby strategy working well – I had scoffed the first three already. Start slow strategy, working too well, I looked round to see only 5 runners behind me and the other 90-odd charging ahead along the lane. A long climb to the first main hill of Arant Haw gave me chance to take in the views back to Sedbergh and east to the Yorkshire Dales. Also had a chat with a hill runner from Sussex (a rare breed) who talked about hill reps on Beachy Head.
A very runnable descent brought me down to Checkpoint 2 at the first major stream crossing. No chance of keeping feet dry and if conditions had been wet it would have been very interesting. Next section of the run gave views to the Lakeland Hills, but the main obstacle was the terrain. It was along one of those contouring sheep trods where you need your left leg to be 6 inches longer than your right. Seemed to go on forever but reached checkpoint 3 where the course turns east into the Howgills for a few kilometres. Terrain was pathless and very tussocky with some steepish descents and stream crossings. It was better than the contouring though.
Reaching checkpoint 4 the course then heads south back to Sedbergh. But first The Calf (676m) has to be climbed. There was a well graded track all the way to the summit. Anyone who was fit would have run it at a good pace, but by this stage I was happy just to be jogging slowly with the odd bit of walking. What was heartening was that I was gaining places. Once over The Calf it was undulating, often on a stony track that was murderous to the feet to the final checkpoint on Winder. At least that took my mind off my knees that were starting to feel the distance. From Winder it was a very fast descent through the bracken to the road. Fortunately the bracken wasn’t the head high stuff we get round here, but waist high stuff and navigating a route through was easy. I had reckoned at least 10 minutes to get down from Winder but was closer to 6 minutes, so slow start strategy was working out well.
The run finishes on the sports field with post race tea and lots of cake in the sports hall. All in all a very enjoyable outing, on a run that is a sort of cross between Durisdeer and The Two Breweries. If the weather was poor, some bits would need good navigation. Two days later an envelope turned up in the post with a £10 PB voucher for second over 50.
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