Barrel Inn Fell Race

The route

Last of the Midweek Championship Counters for Glossopdale. 1st and 2nd has been decided already, and John Hewitt and I are the only 2 in contention for 3rd place. All he needs to do is come one place behind me, and he comes 3rd. I have to be either first or second Glossopdale home. Gwyn is running, so first is pretty much out of the window, and knowing John, its going to be a hard run for second.

My plan was simply to beat John, and see how far back he came. Barrel Inn is about 10km long, and doesn’t have too much in the way of crazy steep climbs- which is where I’ve managed to beat John before. Nor had he been racing at the weekend, so he was fresh.
And I heard that he had new shoes.
I’m very happy he has new shoes, but not so happy that this is the race he is going to debut them.

The playground

Lynne and I got over to Eyam quite early on. It was her Birthday so we had some food and had a lovely day out and all that kind of malarky. Just after getting to the car park and heading out for a bit of a recce of the route, Beryl and Carl came jogging across the parking lot, clutching a map of the route as well, and we made it a bit of a group recce, taking in the beginning, the end, and the adventure playground (which was by far the best bit), noting where all the stiles and slippery bits were. (on the route, not the playground.
We went over to the start and registration, registered early and had a chat about the route with the organiser, who mentioned that yes there was a lap of the cricket pitch at the beginning. And at the end.
Great. Well at least we know.

After chilling out for a while, cars began to gather, people arrived and there was soon quite a full field turning up. Charlie arrived with Gwyn, Tom and John, who was sporting a new pair of Mudclaw 333’s. By this time I had realised that I didn’t actually have my new grippy roclites in the car. Nope. I had picked up my old dodgy ones with no grip and a broken lace retainer. Oh dear, this could be fun. A bit of pre-race banter followed, with mentions of Bear-traps and the like.
It was quite chilly at the start, and Lynne had already gone off up to somewhere to take photos, so we stood around getting quite chilly – except John, resplendent in his hat. Very soon the organiser said a few words about the course and that someone would be blowing a whistle to start us off.
That was it, we were off.
I love the random nature of starts in fell races, you never really quite know what’s going to happen.

Chris leading us up the first hill

140 of us raced across the field and around the cricket pitch, and then hit the hill. I could see John out of the corner of my eye and kept him in close contact.
My basic race strategy (yep, I actually had a strategy this time), was to keep in contact with John all the way around, but get over every stile in front of him. That would give me a good 5-7 metre jump on him each time we went over one, and by the time he caught me up, there would (hopefully) be another stile to get the jump on him again. Then at the end, sprint for the line and see what happened. OK, this wouldn’t get me 3rd in the championship, but I would get the victory for the day.
John, being the fighter that he is wasn’t going to settle for one place behind me, he wanted to beat me, I was pretty sure he would go out hard, and continue in that vein all the way around, beating me into submission every step of the way, and in the process, taking much of the sting out of my final dash for the line. It was going to be tough.

Top of the first hill after the first dig

Up the hill, Chris was up in front of us, he’s good on hills is Chris. He can’t but help it with legs that long. I was behind John all the way up the climb, on tarmac to begin with, then up a track that winds up the hill, hard pack and rocky underfoot, slightly unstable, but generally fine. It went on for a while, round a couple of steeper bends, and then up to the top, I put in the first dig and stretched out in front of John as we passed Lynne and Carl at the top of the climb, putting a good few metres between us. We were about to go on road as well, which would see him close the gap – and he did, but I was over the stile first.
Bang, immediately I was up with Chris for the undulating field with John a ways behind. Perfect. Chris was saying that he’d gone off way too fast, too early and that he was just going to go backward from that point on, I’d have loved to have had a conversation, but I knew John was coming… neck and neck, he gained on me… there’s a stile coming, speed up, and over it in front, left, up a track.
That little boost from getting over the stile was good, by the time we got to the top of the rise, again, we were neck and neck, and we matched each other all the way down the next bit of slope. Sometimes he slipped ahead, but I pulled him back. It was beginning to hurt a bit now. A relentless pace up the hill, then down, I knew I was hurting, but surely, surely he was hurting too? Whatever pace he can sustain, I can as well.

Round the corner, John was first, onto a track, I think there were other runners there, but honestly, I have no idea. A bit of a left hander, and I’m still trailing a little. Back onto the road down to Barrel Inn, the namesake of the race and he is in front all the way. Thanks to the team outside the pub who were ready to hand out drinks, I felt very rude for not picking any up, but did have a slightly more pressing matter on my mind.
Round the corner of the pub and down a short tarmacked hill, I thought I would try a bit of psychological warfare and pushed out ahead of John by a stride or two, then fell back, and then did it again, and fell back. Ha Ha! I’m going to completely dominate this now.


The track turns into a rutted nightmare of a track going uphill, and all of a sudden I’m flagging. John is probably about to give me a bit of a masterclass in how to keep going at the same pace for a fair amount of time longer than I am able to sustain. Up the hill, (well, slope actually), we are behind someone else, and I know that if John can push past, then I’m done for. Keep breathing and turning over the pace, I stick to his coat tails and we come up and to a stile. Of 4 runners, I am the last one to the stile. As we go over, none of my technique helps and we come down equal lengths apart. Then they all seem to accelerate away from me. You have got to be kidding me. Why can’t I keep up with them? I try striding out, it doesn’t work. We hit another stile, which slows them down enough for me to just get behind them again.
Once more the trail is flat, and they accelerate away, at the next stile there is enough of a gap for them to be a unit of 3 with me trailing some way behind.
There are 2 lovely ladies by the stile, marshaling, so I do my utmost to vault over with as much style, speed and panache as possible, and am off in hot pursuit. Down the hill, but the guys in front are way in front now. 20, 25 metres? I can hear breathing behind me.
I can’t believe that I’m not able to keep up with John. I’ve been whupped good and proper. I try to work out if my legs are just cruising, if there is anyway that I can make the run faster. I’m sure they are cruising, but the more I try, the more they go at the same speed, and the further ahead the 3 in front of me get. I’ve been given a bit of a lesson.
But its not over yet.

Down and down and down we go, (not all that steep, mind, just a nice gradient that everyone else apparently can run faster than me), and at the bottom a sharp right and up the hill. You can see who is behind you and how far. An idea pops into my head that if John sees just how far behind I am, he might relax and slow down a little. No idea if this works or not, but I hit the bottom, sharp right and the grip on my dodgy old messed up roclites fail and I sprawl on the floor at the feet of the marshall. Great. And there is someone else catching me up. Right, up and at ’em then. Beyond and ahead of me, the line of people up the hill stretches out. John and his battle with 2 others is going on 30 metres up the hill from me, I just need to plug away and hope that I can close the gap somehow, hoping that at some point over the last few Kms I can overtake.
Up the hill, breathing, breathing, concentrate on people in front, keep going, ignore the pain, ignore the effort, keep going up. The hill throws a bit of a kick at us and I notice that John has been left by the others, and is now a lot closer to me. That speedy section must have taken a bit more out of him than I thought. Keep going. He’s walking. Brilliant, I keep up the pace and come right up behind with about 30 metres of the steep section still to go. If I keep running all the way up, will I have the pace to stay in front, or will I have worn myself out too much?

I go for the steady option and power walk behind him until just before the top, when I pull out the stops and power on over the crest ahead of him. Nice. All that I thought was lost, is now back in hand. Just need to keep running, not the easiest of tasks and my feet feel tired of hitting the floor, my legs feel like they are wired to a car battery and its all I can do to fall forward while keeping them moving. John can’t be feeling all that much better as I can hear him behind, but he can’t overtake.
This field is going on for a long time.
I stretch out, but pretty much stay at the same speed. I know there is another stile coming up and I try to keep breathing at a normal(ish) rate (for running like an idiot), to trick myself into believing that I’m fine, hoping that this gives the impression that I’m fine. He’s still just behind me, and I see the stile, a rush for it, as I think he now knows my plan, and is intent on getting there first. My line takes me there perfectly. One, and then very quickly another. Bang, and into the sloping field down to the road. Still in front, I’m hammering away, hoping against hope that he doesn’t have the legs to overtake, after this field is a km on road, and that’s not going to be fun, he’s certainly going to be faster there, limit the damage, stay in front here, let him overtake on the road, and then through the trees, its steep, gather yourself there, catch your breath as you go down through the trees and take him at the end. Good plan.
Burst for the stile at the end of the field, again, just about holding him off, explode over the wall and onto the tarmac and run crazy down the road.

As expected, John slowly overhauls me. I fight back, but, keeping to the plan, I let him get a little ahead, but only by a stride. Round the corner, and my lungs are burning out. This is really really hurting now. Thankfully none of the diaphragmatic pain of races gone by, just sheer lung bursting, lactic acid inducing, leg lagging pain.
Down into the depths of the wood, this is going to be slippy, and I can see John is going a little gingerly, despite his new crazy sticky shoes, I’m skipping down over the roots quite happily, gaining my breath on every step down, he, seemingly concentrating hard, me just going with it. I was about to make some smart remark about his shoes and that I bet he’s glad he has them on instead of his old ones with no grip when all of a sudden he bashed off right, following some small trail going down into the bottom of the river gully- the path continued straight on… “uh… John, its this way…” I said as I continued down … He’d just quite literally run himself off the road. No longer following anyone, I stretched my legs out, not far to go now, just keep running. I suspected that he had extricated himself from the gully/ditch that he ran into and was now storming down through the woods as fast as possible to make up for the time he had lost with this minor route choice issue.
Panic, run like a lunatic.

I could hear big heavy footsteps behind me, keep going. Ripping down the hill, it was quite difficult to stop for the sharp right turn, where I caught a glimpse of a shirt behind me that wasn’t Glossopdale. That’s good, but no time to relax in the slightest. What can I concentrate on? 2 runners ahead, get them. Along a small and slippery single track through the trees, down and over a stream, left, and the runner in front of me over takes the one in front of him. Aha. I sense another scalp. We come out of the trees and the one that was overtaken has slowed dramatically. I see that he is also wearing Mudclaws, but nothing else. He could have been wearing a gorilla suit and I wouldn’t have noticed. Weird how your mind works.
Up a short slope, through a gate, and the final killer uphill section. I overtake the guy with Mudclaws on, and have a mild panic that John is right behind me. I cannot look back, I cannot stop, I cannot do anything except run for the line. It must be about 600 metres away now. Up, up, and then a sharp left and down the hill.
Steps. Who puts steps in a hill?! My legs don’t work like normal, so instead of thrashing down them at a rate of knots, I mince down them a step at a time, probably looking for all the world like a man who needs a stick. Through the gate, which swings shut with a BANG and into the last downhill field. I go under 2 trees and am 10 metres away when the gate shuts again with another BANG. Whoever it is is about 10 metres behind me. Is it John? Can’t be, but keep going, just in case. Through the stile at the bottom, which is one of those Pinch Stiles- the marshal says “you can sprint all the way home from here!” to which I reply “yeah, right” and go down past the blackberries, onto a track, sharp right at the bottom, I hear breathing behind me, and I know its just up here, past the playground and around the cricket field.

At the end, showing my number

Carl is there saying something about my position, I have no idea what it was, and I dig in, just that little bit more. No-one is going to overtake me from here. Up the slope and a tight left onto the cricket field. I cannot quite keep this pace to the end, I slow up just a touch for a few strides to catch my breath, and let whoever it is catch up by a few metres, Lynne is shouting at me from the other side of the field, and I cruise for another 10 metres. Right. Bottom of the field, no idea of what time this is, or position, but no-one is taking it from me, and a kick which, from the photos seem to suggest that whoever was behind me was never near me at any point.
Home. In 12th place. I look at my Garmin, but its shut down, great, the hardest race of my year and the stupid thing hasn’t recorded it. It worked for 5 mins and then switched off of its own accord.
Ah well, I beat John.
Even in the hardest part of the race when he was 30-40 metres ahead, I thought about slowing down, giving into the pain, and letting him shoot off into the distance, but I kept on running, believing that I might be able to shut him down at some point. Had I not done that I would not have been able to capitalise on the mistake he made. Never give up, no matter how much you think you can’t make it, there is always a chance that something is going to go your way. It did.

Well done to Gwyn, who won this one, I’d love to read his experiences of the race, but it would probably read “ran fast. beat everyone”. I was 2nd Glossopdale home, John was 3rd, but the 4th guy, Tom was only 7 seconds behind him… had it been the other way around the club would have to start writing new rules about club championships. Never mind. I won the battle this time, but not the war.

Gwyn receiving his prize

Y’know, I feel somewhat cheated that John went the wrong way, that we didn’t get to battle it out right to the very end, but such is the nature of fell racing. I don’t think I’ve ever actually pushed that hard in a race before, I haven’t had the motivation, or maybe, I’ve just subconsciously not wanted to hurt that much. Now I’ve done it though, I know it can be done. It never gets less painful. You just get faster.
Next year is another year, but between now and then, there are a fair few weekend races. Longer, tougher, worse weather, lots of room for improvement.
Can’t wait.

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