A strong Westies contingent (and me) made their way to the Lake District for the annual Hodgsons Brothers Mountain Relays last Sunday. This is a four-leg race on the hills around Patterdale; a stunning course and, thanks to a strictly limited number of competitors, one that always offers some seriously competitive racing.
Everyone was out on the fells on Saturday reccying their respective routes – corners would be cut, lines would be optimal and there would be no f**k-ups come race day. It was a glorious Autumnal blue-sky day – the Lakes at its best. The only thing that marred Saturday was some poor service in the local pub that evening – two hours wait for a veggie curry and they’d ran out of beer?! At least two hangry/thirsty team-members stormed out before their food arrived.
Come Sunday and I was on Leg 2 with new member Kris Blake. We jogged up to Hartsop from Patterdale for a warm-up to join Alex & Sarah at the hand-over. Lots of serious, athletic-looking people were mooching about, along with a smattering of famous faces. I went over to chat to the Carnethy guys, but only managed two sentences before I heard my name being yelled – Niall & Gwynn had ran a belter and stormed in at 5th place.
Immediately the pressure was on and me and Kris set off at a strong pace. Aside from my inability to work a latch on a gate (5s wasted), we were going well; flying along High Street, inching up on Helm Hill in front and doing enough to maintain a decent gap on Borrowdale behind. The clag was down on the tops, but we found the first check-point and turn-offs no problem. It all went wrong when we missed our ‘optimal line’ for checkpoint two and spent about three minutes running around in circles looking for a small tarn in the mist. We eventually found it by tagging along behind some other teams; I was furious at myself, we’d been stupid and thrown away a top-5 place. I shouted to Westies-groupie Alan Smith who was pottering around on the route: “We’ve f**ked it Alan!” “No you haven’t!” he laughed. Yeah right.
We kicked it up a gear for the final 2 miles to try and salvage some pride and eventually crashed in to the handover in 7th-place. Not a bad position to be in and we ran a good race for the most part, but it took me a couple of hours to see anything positive about it.
Luckily Manny & Brian ran a solid Leg 3 to maintain our position and then Sam & Iain were fired out of a rocket to run the 3rd-fastest time on Leg 4; watching them fly down St Sunday crag was quite something. The lads took nearly 90s out of Borrowdale in front but were just 9s shy of passing them on the course and we finished 7th overall, our best ever placing at this event.
The Westies Wimmin had a strong day too, finishing as 10th ladies team; Claire & Ellie had a solid run, Alex & Sarah utilised impeccable route choice to finish 20 mins faster than their target, Outi & Mhari beasted the main Leg 3 descent from Dove Crag and Ruth & Megan took them home in fine style. It’s great to see Westies showing off strength and depth these days!