A popular local race for the hardy fell runners is the Hebden 15/22 which is run each year at the end of January. Having not attempted a fell race before, this one is just about as brutal as they get with a 15 or 22 mile option over some very undulating terrain (almost 3000ft of ascent in 15 miles) in usually bad weather.
A friend of mine who is training for a ultra-marathon later in the year suggested that I enter to run the course as a good introduction to fell running, so, on the 21st of January I found myself huddled in a small community centre in Mythomroyd among some very keen looking fell runners at 7:30am waiting for the start.
Away we go…
The first half a mile was along a path at the side of road, “this is great” I thought as everyone started to spread themselves out a bit then all of a sudden we crossed the main road and the path went UP, and not just up a little bit, it went straight up the side of a hill. The first lesson I learnt about fell running that day is that it’s totally fine to walk the hills. There are some runners who run all these types of courses but they are very few and far between, most people get their heads down, hands on their thighs and march their way up. So here I was, marching my way up through the woods on what was a kind of half path, half river kind of terrain.
I’d looked at the race information leaflet before race day and the first checkpoint/aid station said it was at 3 miles. I remember thinking to myself “I wont need anything to eat/drink after only 3 miles” but those first 3 miles felt like I had done 10. It was all climbing and more of a run/walk. We reached the first checkpoint up by Old Town and I grabbed some chocolate cake (standard) and some water.
The route then dropped down through Hardcastle Craggs (which if you’re ever in the area is a must for walkers) and up some steep steps on the other side of the valley and across the tops of the moors for a good few miles until we dropped back down (again), crossed back over the main road and climbed up to Stoodley Pike which is a 1300ft climb on which stands a 120ft monument designed by local architect James Green and was completed in 1856 at the end of the Crimean War. There is usually some amazing views from the summit of Stoodley Pike but today, in January, we couldn’t see much at all.
From there we couldn’t see anyone in front or behind us anymore so headed out across what looked like a half path/half bog towards where Andrew thought the route went. He had run part of the route in training a few weeks before so luckily had a good idea of which way we were heading as the printed directions are never that easy to follow when everywhere looks the same.
After an extremely slippery and steep descent through the woods we popped out at the last checkpoint, which had jelly babies then carried on down Cragg Vale and back to the community centre where pie and peas or stew was on offer followed by apple crumble and custard.
In the days after the event my legs ached like never before. I’ve run much longer distances than that before but always on the road and generally flatter so I’m pretty sure it was the terrain that caught me out. Saying that I’ve already signed up for my next trail race on March 19th over much of the same area. Better scrub up on my navigational skills…..