The Auld Lang Syne Fell Race
Back when I started running I was given, or otherwise acquired a copy of Bruce Tulloh's 'Running Is Easy' which I read and re-read so often the spine had to be kept barely functional with more duck tape than the average roadie would use during an AC/DC tour. Anyway, one of the pearls of wisdom that stuck in my mind was his assertion that you should try other branches of the sport (it's primarily about road-running) in case you miss out on something you have an aptitude for. There was precious little evidence that I had any aptitude for any of these other disciplines and the results of this race diluted what evidence there was to homeopathic medicine levels, but the concept is sound at least!
I hadn't run a proper fell race before. I've run the Rough and Tumble 10 (a fantastic race in Wiltshire in January - famous for its post-race cakes and the swear box at the foot of the near-vertical climb halfway round), but like John Smiths beer, a proper fell race seems somehow to belong up North in the Moors, Peaks and Dales and doesn't travel very well. So this was to be my first go at a 'proper' fell race.
The Auld Lang Syne is held on New Year's Eve near Haworth, Bronte Country in West Yorkshire. There's a healthy streak of insanity within most runners in my experience. That's why races such as the Tough Guy and the Terminator and those that encourage you to pitch yourself in a futile race against trains and horses sell out in five minutes flat. And running on New Year's Eve after a 90 minute drive in freezing conditions through several feet of snow and bog is my version of chucking yourself in the Serpentine on Jan 1st.
As it seems with all these races, the old hands delight in telling you of their near-fatal injuries picked up while running previous editions with descriptions of the terrain being so graphic and awful that were you offered a couple of weeks B&B in Hades as an alternative, you'd be seriously considering it. They always post-fix every doom-laden piece of advice with 'but you'll love it'.
There were only 380 entrants this year so you had to be even quicker off the mark in booking your place than usual. Each one had to collect their race number and, more interestingly, a bottle of Daleside Leg Over beer from a small hut near the start. The previous year's race winners have the honour of their mugshot taking pride of place on the label of each bottle but despite this field being small it's headed by some of the best in the country. This year's event was won by World Triathlon Champion Alistair Brownlee so it's probably not worrying too much about which is your best side for the cameras! Fell races have the reputation that they'd only be cancelled in biblical weather conditions so I was concerned to hear the course had had to be changed due to the ice. The local scenery is stunning in pretty much any weather but in the bright sun and deep snow it was truly spectacular.
We were set off in the freezing air by the starter accompanied by a young local lad on the bagpipes. He was still going at the finish so I'm guessing he didn't get the chance of a breather throughout the whole thing! It's basically the 'standard' cross country distance of around 5.6 miles but there is over 900 feet of climb on the out and back course.
The route is marked sporadically but it's more a suggestion than obligatory and you're free to choose you own path of least resistance. Unfortunately you'll find pretty much any path you pick offers quite a lot of resistance! You're soon into a fairly relentless climb and in single file too due to the nature of the terrain which was very tough going in the deep snow, broken only by the sort of bogs they're always fishing prehistoric mammoths out of. I was totally obscured by mud from the waist down within the first mile and the rest of me soon followed when I unintentionally went knee deep in a slime-filled crevasse and planted my face and everything below it into the quagmire. What brilliant fun. You can't help but have a broad grin on your face the whole way.
Halfway round and you're running across the top of a ridge with great views across the snow fields before the mad descent back to the finish. I have zero sense of balance at the best of times so this for me was more of a frantic, uncoordinated plummet back to base camp which I'm astounded to have negotiated without breaking anything. I was also astounded to learn that the 5.6 miles had taken me 56 minutes - almost double what a road-race would have taken!
At the finish you want a big urn of tea and a jammy dodger and sure enough both were on tap and I drank and munched away amongst the steaming masses, most of whom seemed to be sporting bloodied knees, with every mouthful tasting faintly of mud. I absolutely loved it.
There was another big difference with this race over any road race I've ever entered. We all decamped to a local pub for the prize-giving and it's at this point that the majority of the field in a typical road race would melt away and start their journey home. Not this time - everybody stayed for the entire ceremony (ok, the pub did help!) and there seemed to be about a million prizes as it went on for what seemed like an age. They show a video of the race on a large screen in the background too so you get to see yourself (if you're still able to recognise your mud-encrusted form) being man-handled by the course.
A brilliant way to see out the old year and set you up for a few celebratory beers to see in the new one.
This is the race website and if I'm honest there's a bit of me that's reluctant to publish it in case it gets too popular and I scupper my chances of getting in this year :)