Caution. This has literally nothing to do with fishing. But it’s my blog and I’ll diversify if I want to :-). I’m just ‘leveraging’ my flyfishing blog to write a post about something else I’ve been up to. It helps me remember the experience, and ultimately may only be of interest to others who have done the event..or are contemplating it. If you don’t want to read about my epic weekend in the Dales skip this post and read about my Carsington outing or learn how to mix up your own Fullers Earth via my most recent post 🙂
As you may have noticed I like to do lots of hillwalking, sometimes combined with fishing but not always. Over the past couple of years this desire to walk up and down stuff has grown in its intensity and 2013 saw me embark upon a training regime which culminated in me entering the Lakeland 50, a 50 mile ‘ultra-marathon’ in the Lake District. I must point out I’m not a runner and certainly can’t run a marathon so perhaps I was at a disadvantage but myself, Phil and Tom did still manage to walk/run our way round in 20 hours. Never again though. My feet were butchered from 50 miles of hard stony paths and the 6 thousand feet of ascent didn’t help either.
Never again, never…and yet Winter 2013 saw me deciding to enter and train for The Fellsman, described on their website as “a high level traverse covering more than 60 miles over very hard rugged moorland. The event climbs over 11,000 feet in its path from Ingleton to Threshfield in the Yorkshire Dales”. I began running, albeit just to the local park and back then stepped up a little to longer off-road runs as well as maintaining my usual weekend hill walking. I also started hoovering up new kit because I like nothing better than an excuse to buy new shit.
I read a few blogs written by people who had done the Fellsman and they all seemed like proper athletes in the peak of physical condition, hardened runners effortlessly eating up those miles. This is why I wanted to write my take on the Fellsman because I’m not a runner and the event knocked the shit out of me! But if I can do it…..
Just getting to the start line is an achievement. You have to avoid injury during training and then get your kit scrupulously checked by event officials to ensure you are safe to be let out onto the hills.
Our merry band consisted of myself, Phil, Tom and Aidan. Phil and Tom you may recognize from such blog posts as “Around Assynt in a Tiger Tank” and ” Battling Bastards of Badachro” but Aidan is new to YFF. We opted to avoid sleeping in the school hall at Threshfield with 400+ farting snoring runners and instead got B+B in Ingleton where the race begins. This also meant we didn’t have to get up ludicrously early to get the coach to Ingleton and could instead have a slap-up meal and a pint the night before.
The morning of the Fellsman I nervously packed/unpacked/packed / unpacked whilst the others sat outside in the car (im)patiently waiting for me. We got to Ingleton Community Centre and it was raining and rather grim but spirits were high. I managed to remember just in time to do some stretching whilst guzzling down Lucozade and mentally trying to prepare myself for what was about to happen. I was also ruing the fact I’d left my shorts back in Leeds because tights really are not a good look on me
The buzz before you go is hard to describe, it’s just allsorts of crap going round inside you – nerves, tension, adrenalin, uncertainty, confidence, no confidence, oh shit ..we’re off! It begins with a run across the field then a steady pull up onto Ingleborough for CP2. Feeling good so far, got my secret weapon to keep me going , a Sub 4 running bum bag thing stuffed full of Tunnocks and painkillers if needed. I figured it would save having to repeatedly delve into my Alpkit Gourdon which is so full it’s like trying to stuff an arm in a constipated cow’s arse. I think this tactic worked as well, throwing down a Tunnocks in between checkpoints really kept me ticking over (I’d had a horrendous ‘bonk’ on the Lakeland 50 and was keen to avoid that horror happening again. Down off Ingleborough, stuck behind some traffic then a good trot down to CP 3 where we got our pictures taken by an event photographer and I refilled my chest mounted bottle and snaffled a biscuit. Shit, I’m doing the Fellsman! Still feeling good!
I think we’re near the back of the pack but a) all we’re really bothered about is finishing and b) going crackers at the start can jeopardize a) . Up Whernside now, steep steady pull and plenty of runners already coming back down from the summit whilst we still plod up. Tally clipped, back down we come then canter down towards Kingsdale where there’s an unexpected 2nd kit check! Oh no I’ll be spending the next 10 minutes wondering if I’ve left anything behind. And there’s no flapjack left 🙁 Now we’re off up Gragareth – ugh, not so easy now, this thing is steep! Hands on thighs type steep! Proper hard work.
Gragareth hole punched, slight backtrack then along the nice long ridge walk although there was a fair bit of bog next to the wall and I’m a little off pace with the others, just a few yards but enough to make me have to double time every now and again. Irritating little bursts of effort.
Out to Great Coum – clipped again- then down to Flinters Gill which is a couple of guys standing next to a gate! I’m still feeling generally ok at this point but I hit a slight setback as we descend down into Dent. Despite wearing mid-weight walking boots rather than flimsy-soled fell running footwear my feet are very sore on the rocky path – ugh this I don’t need, it’s knocking my confidence. The checkpoint at Dent is however delightful! We bask in the warm sun whilst devouring warm sausage rolls, a cup of beans and some biccies.
Aidan is just eating and eating, he never stops! No wonder he has the energy to run when I can sometimes barely walk but also take photos when no-one else can be bothered – hence these pics. I’m reluctant to leave but it is supposed to be a race. The slog up to Blea Mor didn’t really seem to bother anyone else but I found it to be a bit of a downer, it seemed like the world’s longest drag and my knees are starting to give me jip over the boggy tussocks on the last stretch before the actual CP. It was here I necked a couple of Ibuprofen but they didn’t really do much to alleviate the pain as I descended down off Blea Moor. This I guess would have been my first real bit of a low point on the event – far too early in the game to be feeling this pain, how on earth will I cope with the rest? What’s more, no sign of the giant turkey as I come through the garden I’d seen in all the pictures. There was however a heavily mustachioed gentleman sat watching the world go buy. 17:49 and Stonehouse was another fantastic checkpoint, never has pasta, tomato and cheese tasted so outrageously good and I could have stayed here for ages. There were quite a few retirements at this checkpoint and I can understand why! In the last of the day’s sunshine we set off again reasonably reinvigorated for the next checkpoint which was Great Knoutberry. I liked this bit, we went under a splendid viaduct and the going was nice and steady on a good track before turning left and heading up the hill to the CP. All the way up …then all the way back down again and across some rough ground and eventually dropping down to Redshaw. Not sure about the others but I was feeling tired by now.
Another boggy yomp to Snaizeholme then a plod up to Dodd Fell. The light finally went for us here and I was really glad that Phil had done the Fellsman before so could take the lead on navigation because it meant I could concentrate on where I was putting my feet – it was pitch black by the time we got to the Dodd Fell checkpoint . The beacons add a surreal quality to the atmosphere. Here I dropped back a bit whilst faffing around with my GPS to make sure it as tracking my progress and trying to wade through knee-high bog whilst concentrating on a tiny screen is not a good idea. I can’t multi-task but stopping just wasn’t really an option. I kept straying off-path which resulted in relentless slipping, sliding, knees jarring, sinking up to knees in bog, ankles collapsing here there everywhere with a backdrop of “bastardfuginnbogfuggin ankles stupid fuggin mud fug sake fugg off fuggin bastard fuggin GPS” . In the run up to the Fellsman I’d looked at what I could do to help my wretched ankles and knees and decided on a Trekmates Carbon Ultra-Lite trekking pole. I bought just the one and planned on using it on Fleet Moss as a glorified walking stick but I was in fact giving it some stick well before there. Here on Dodd Fell it proved essential as it gave added stability and where a stumble would normally entail all my weight going on one ankle/knee I could absorb lots of that impact through the pole and into my arms and shoulder instead. Without that purchase I’m really not sure I could have made it round.
By the time we got to Fleet Moss Checkpoint (22:14) I had mixed emotions. We were properly balls-deep into the Fellsman now and I’d moved from thinking ‘I wonder if I can do this’ to ‘I think I can do this’ but at the same time it was pretty disheartening to think that we still had Fleet Moss, Buckden Pike and Great Whernside to tackle – I’d done that walk before and knew what it involved. Hard going on its own – never mind trying to do it after a 40 mile walk, at night! I think I ate some stew or chilli here that had mushrooms in it. I hate mushrooms with real gusto but here, now, I didn’t care too much in the end – I just snaffled them down.
We had a good line through Fleet Moss (wow I sound like a proper Fellsman!) and I almost enjoyed it in a perverse way , we arrived at the next checkpoint (Middle Tongue – another tent in the middle of nowhere if I recall) much earlier than I thought we would but the next stage onto Hell’s Gap seemed harder and I struggled for a bit. When we got to Cray I was starving so queued up for some food but whilst doing so came to the horrifying conclusion I’d shit myself, there was no mistaking that smell. I knew I’d been fighting a Mr Hanky for quite some time but hadn’t realised things had got this bad. However, careful sniffing revealed it wasn’t me ..it was actually someone else! Grim, so very grim but I imagine he’s not the first and won’t be the last to soil their pants on a 60 mile race.
Out of the stinky tent and onto Buckden Pike. Again it strikes me that for many people a walk up this fell is classed as a day out..I’ve done it myself. You get back to the car, maybe have a pint, generally feel like you’ve had a good day out and had plenty of exercise. Here we are about to ascend Buckden Pike having already done 8 other big fells! I’m tired, but not feeling too bad, slipped into a kind of zombie mode. However, Tom has started flagging and by the time we hit the checkpoint he’s in a bad way – convinced he’s going to retire at the next roadside checkpoint. We don’t bother giving it all the ‘come on Tom, you can do it’ bullshit. This is only my second big event but already I know that the decision making process at these low points is yours and yours alone. Deciding to quit at such a late stage in the game isn’t moaning to let off steam or a cry for support it’s a quiet realization you’re pretty fucked, you’ve got to deal with it and make that decision yourself. The walk across the top of Buckden Pike is a slog through thick, deep clarty porridge and I rip a hole in my tights (!) on a bit of loose fence wire. It’s cold, dark, my feet hurt, my knees hurt, I’m really tired but just got to keep going. I can’t believe it didn’t strike me at the time but the memorial up there, and the associated chain of events as to how it came about should really have helped me put my travails into perspective!
We hit Park Rash at 04:55, it’s the last place Tom can retire but much to my relief he is able to crack on, it would’ve been a real shame to have come all this way and then have to retire. I can’t actually remember Park Rash, I’ve got my check in time off the results page but have zero memory of being there! It may have been here whilst we slumped on a bench another runner spewed up whilst someone else sat motionless under a survival blanket staring at the floor- it was like a clearing station on the Somme. I think it got light on our way up Great Whernside and here the checkpoint was 2 guys sat in a pile of rocks looking very cold. The descent is more awful muddy bog, I’d actually bigged this up in my head to be one of the worst sections but although it was a quagmire in places it was soon over and we came off the hills down onto more sensible fields. My God I’m going to make it,I think I’m going to finish the Fellsman. Hmm. Capplestone Gate?? Again, a checkpoint I got clipped at, got my chip scanned etc and yet I have no memory I do remember the next one though – At Yarnbury it’s a last little combo of highs and lows because although the end is technically very close, it’s a long way on feet that are pretty much finished. I try to be a brave little soldier and run but it hurts too much. The other 3 pull away from me as I just stick to my painful hobble. The last few hundred yards are spent talking to myself like an idiot but oh my God that feeling as I hobble up the gentle hill to Threshfield school. Nearly there, nearly done it, I’m actually going to finish the Fellsman, shit!! There’s even a couple of people milling around outside who give me some applause as I come in after 24 hours and 13 minutes of slog and collect my Fellsman Buff, churning and dithering with adrenalin and unable to stop grinning. I think you’re meant to be subdued about the Fellsman, act like it was nowt and if anyone asks you’ve ‘just been for walk in t’country’ then look knowingly into the distance whilst adjusting your flat cap. F*ck that, I’ve just spent a solid 24 hours running/walking/bog-trotting up down and over 61 miles of Yorkshire’s finest, lugged myself up eleven thousand feet of hills, lost half a stone and f*cked my feet into next month and all for a Buff and a certificate!! “Never again” says I, bum-skidding along the kitchen floor back home to save my ravaged feet from anymore contact with anything ever again and yet within 24 hours I was looking forward to next year.