Howgill Fell Race by Chris Curtis
2019 saw the Howgill Fell Race feature in the English Championships and a good turnout was guaranteed. The weather looked perfect with clear skies and a light breeze so what could go wrong?
The clue should have been the fell race map, helpfully supplied on the Helm Hill website, which looks like a fun trip to the tops of most of the interesting hills in the area of Sedbergh. It helps if you read the description properly as that’s 2,000m of climb, not 2,000ft, as I was gleefully told on arrival. The route has been designed for as a rollercoaster of six leg-tearing climbs and a few additional little ones – which still hurt. Put simply, most of it is either straight up or down, or it certainly feels like it.
Things started off well, a normal race going straight from a lane to a gentle climb, but the first descent got steeper and steeper and when the angle neared or passed 45 degrees we were getting the idea of what was to come. Hit the stream at the bottom and then straight up immediately to a leg-burning climb. Dib at the checkpoint, rinse and repeat. The running (haha) is good, with much of it on pathless tussock and on any sensible route would be an enjoyable. There are a few good leg stretching sections but the pain of the climbing meant I found it hard to hard to get my legs to make the most of them. By the time I reached Arant Haw and the promised ‘lovely downhill’ my legs were shot and it was a jog to the bottom rather than racing. The marshals reported large numbers of runners with cramps and I frequently passed people limping along or stopping and stretching. On the final climb a woman with the same pained expression as myself told me she just wanted to sit down and cry (she still beat me to the finish).
And yes, the finish. With stiff legs my slow pace meant lots of people zipped past me in the final mile, and then the final insult of a very steep downhill slope with screaming legs. The run in on tarmac was a blessed relief, the position didn’t matter, I was glad it was all over. This is a tough race and being early in the season makes it doubly cruel, but if you’ve got the climb in your legs then you can nab a good position. Think of it as a wake-up call to show you how much more you need to do to be fit for the rest of the season.
A final mention for the amazing spread of cakes at the end and endless supplies of water which were very welcome.