Nina says: Well. The weather couldn’t have been better. No, I’m not being sarcastic. It was an absolutely sparklingly beautiful day. All runners and supporters met at an idyllic country pub, at the very end of a small country road, in an idyllic little country village.
This 10km fell race (well-organised and extremely friendly atmosphere) incorporated 3 massive hills with 3 very exciting downhills. The route was well planned with epic views over Wales and beyond, and the most encouraging marshals I’ve ever experienced.
So it’s all the more a shame for me that I didn’t sparkle like the day. The biggest of the 3 hills was the first, which claimed the race start. My comrades broke into a hill walk as soon as the path changed from track to grass – and I joined them in that. We formed a long line of day-glow walkers up the side of this mountain. Everybody earns their place in the queue and it was no accident that I was pretty much at the back.
The problem with hills is that the moment you’ve conquered them, the descent is such a powerful recovery that you immediately wish you’d put more in. As I lemming’d over the top into an exciting sea of green – it was all I could do to keep the 80yr old man in front of me in my sights. He seemed to know where he was going better than I did. And so it began – the battle between me and the very Veteran. Which he won in great style by the way.
I passed him on the second hill, but my slightest wrong turn saw him disappearing into the distance as I took an uneventful tumble. These fell racers’ descents are something else! I still had him 30 or so meters ahead of me – and he showed me how to take what I thought was the third hill, at a slow methodical jog. When we reached what I’d imagined was the summit I saw the rest of the race mounting another hill in the distance. I couldn’t believe it. I told myself it was probably just another fell race doing another route. But sure enough, my guy led me up to the marshals standing at the top and cheering ‘well done girl’. By the time I was on the final stretch, there wasn’t a soul in sight and I had nothing to fight for in terms of time or placing. Disappointed, I let gravity do the work.
I learnt a lot of lessons from this race. I would have loved to have been part of a pack with a few more runners in my sights. It was some comfort not to have the stress of being chased – but it was demoralising to lose the fight with the old man in front (well done him by the way – and maybe he was more like early 70s?). I had spent the hour and 15 minutes it took me to complete the race berating myself for such a poor performance. I started thinking ‘running just isn’t for me’, and ‘I’m going to tell Russell that I’m going back to London early, with or without him, to think things over’. I needed him to quote me a whole load of Nina philosophies, and some of his own, on the warm down. Looking back on it – it had to be one of the most beautiful races I’ve ever run. I’d love to do it again, with a more care free attitude, and get to grips with that bloody first hill. Hopefully, my patchy efforts across unknown routes will have set me up better for the Ribble Valley 10k in two weeks’ time. At the very least it’s given me an appetite for it, and appealed to the ‘good little devil’.
Russell says: Nina drove us the 90mins to Welshpool, as I sat there drinking the whole thermos of hot chocolate, grunting instead of answering her conversational topics. I am always moody on race day.
There were no available route maps for this race. And from asking a few of the 60 odd runners on the startline, the directions I got were very vague. ‘Follow the crowd’ was the general idea. Not particularly helpful if you’re hoping to win.
Having got lost in fell races before, where it has cost me the win, I’ve subsequently been angry for the following 3 months. I resolved to stick behind someone that looked like they knew where they were going, wait until I could see the finish line, and hope I had a big enough kick for the risky strategy to come off.
The race started straight up the first and highest peak that seemed to go on forever. I was happy with my decision to play the waiting game, as on the first descent I had no idea where we were going and the leader seemed to be running into blank horizons with no visible flags or marshals.
Up the second peak, myself and first place had made a bit of a gap and I was beginning to feel good about my chances. Until the next descent. It felt like running off the side of a cliff. I wish I had pictures of it because the only way I can describe it is neck-breaking.The leader was flying away from me and I was going as fast as I could…
I would just like to interrupt this report to mention that I think I should be a very good descender. I have very good balance (can walk a tight rope and took ballet as a kid) and I’m not particularly risk averse (have overtaken cars while shooting down hills on rollerblades). The last fell race I did (see Red Bull Steeplechase), I experienced similar trouble with the leader running away on the downhills. On that occasion I blamed my road shoes on wet grass. I had no such excuse this time, as my dad had recently bought me specialist fell-running shoes with grips like dinosaur teeth.
…So I decide maybe I just need to learn on the job, stick with this guy no matter what, and trust my reflexes to take over. That worked for about 3 seconds before I crashed and burned, smashing my right hand and knee. I had to limp down the rest of the hill, blood pouring out of my knee, until I got to the bottom and could start to make up some ground again on the leader.
We got to the third and final peak together, and from the way the spectators were cheering, I could tell the finish was near. The leader took off again on the decent and I’m flailing arms and legs to try and keep in contact. Suddenly, I recognise that we are running down the same path we came up, the finish is less than ½ a mile away, and closing fast.
This descent is not quite as steep as the last. It is now or never, so I take off and sweep into the lead for the first time. I completely lose control, ‘where are the brakes?’ My legs are spinning like crazy, I run into the rough bracken and bushes to try and find some purchase to slow down, it has no effect. Everything is wizzing past in a blur, which I can hardly see, as the wind is flying into my eyes so fast they are crying. And then I spot the cattle grid. Which I’m heading directly for at a million miles per hour.
I have a split second to decide what to do. At first I plan to jump clean over it, but then I hesitate, scared I will slip on take off and crash into the solid metal bars. The indecision causes me to trip and sends me hurtling into the ground just in front of the cattle grid. The soft grass has turned into gravel and tarmac, and I tear up my hands, elbows and knees on it. The other guy flies right past me. In shock, I jump up, retake him and manage to get the win to justify the wounds.
There is quite a crowd of people to cheer the finishers and they are saying kind things to me, but I can’t hear anything. The organiser wants to know my number, it was torn off in the fall. I say ‘I don’t know’. So he asks me my name. I say ‘Russell’. He asks me my surname. I think for a moment, and say ‘Bentley’. As the shock wears off the pain starts to flood in, and I am very thankful that everyone could see I was in distress and they let me walk off down the street howling to myself until it subsides.
After some very nice people got me cleaned up, I got professional advice that my cuts wouldn’t need a hospital. The professional was a vet but said I looked like a shaggy dog anyway.
As Nina said, it was a great race and atmosphere. I heard from some of the finishers that the guy I was battling with won this race last year, was British Fell Running Champ two years ago, and has the record for the fastest descent from Snowdon. Whether this is all true I don’t know. But it was a great tussle anyway.
I made some funny noises walking up to the house that night, and my hand is still very painful/ swollen. But having won in such horrific style appealed to my sense of humour, and I also notched another 100 mile week. I felt better in the morning and, after a very easy run with Nina today, I don’t think any real damage has been done.
I got some press here mud sweat and tears , the title sums up this race perfectly.
Permission to use photographs very kindly given by Alastair Tye http://www.fellrunningphotos.co.uk