Tuesday, 4 August 2009

Borrowdale fell race

At 17 miles and 6500 feet Borrowdale isn’t the longest (Ennerdale 23 miles & 7500 feet) or the toughest (Wasdale 21 miles & 9000 feet) of the Lakeland 'classic races. These comparisons ignore the Old County Tops which makes a strong case for being both the longest and toughest  at 37 miles & 10000 feet although it is run in pairs. Don’t believe anyone who tries to tell you Borrowdale isn’t tough - it is, even for fell runners. First run on a Sunday in August 1974 but now run on Saturdays and still sponsored by Miles Jessop of the Scafell Hotel who completed the race in his ‘slimmer days’, as he described them to us a few years ago. Borrowdale isn’t just tough, it is one of the toughest, summiting England’s highest peak (Scafell Pike 3209 feet, 978 metres) and crossing some of the roughest ground in the area this race deserves its reputation.

From the start in Rosthwaite village the race checkpoints are Bessyboot summit, Esk Hause Shelter, Scafell Pike summit, Sty Head, Great Gable summit, Honister Hause, Dale Head summit with the finish in Rosthwaite village. The altitude profile looks like -

Borrowdale Profile

Neither the altitude profile nor a close inspection of a map gives any real idea of how rough and difficult some of the ground is but think about the world marathon record of 2:03:59 (for 26.2 miles) and while you are doing that consider Billy Bland’s, yet to be beaten, 1982 record of 2:24:38 (for 16.5 miles). Billy Bland wasn’t a great marathon runner but he was a great fell runner, a fearless descender and in his home valley where, as he says “I might as well be last, if I don’t win here” so you can be sure this is a very, very fast time for the route.

To many, runners and non runners alike, Borrowdale epitomises tough Lakeland racing and while not quite in the same league as Ennerdale or Wasdale it attracts big fields even in non-championship years and this year was no exception with the 500 places filling quickly when entries opened at the end of May. I didn’t start thinking about racing until I was beginning to recover from the earlier ultra runs, hadn’t considered entering Borrowdale until after it was full and so had given up all hope for the 2009 race. A serendipitous glance at the fell runners’ forum a week ago revealed a place being offered and within minutes I had a substitute’s place thanks to George Bate. Once the euphoria had evaporated I began to realise I hadn’t raced since March in the High Peak Marathon and I wouldn’t have the chance to race before Borrowdale. Training for very long runs involves not only the obvious physical work but also a mindset tuned to keeping going and conserving energy whenever possible – not always an ideal approach for a race.

A very wet Saturday morning awaited us and the journey to Borrowdale did little to suggest the ‘improving weather’ forecast would be correct but minutes before the 11:00 start the rain blew away, the clouds started to lift and the all the waterproofs were put back into bum bags.

Borrowdale 2009 - "and they are off" 


leaving Honister Hause

Needing to be racing rather than merely running, I started uncomfortably fast and pushed on as hard as I could - aiming to be further up the field than usual when the steep climbing started. The first climb isn’t the one to push hard on and I wasn’t surprised to lose some places before the first summit.

The drying but still greasy rocks around Scafell Pike cost me places and minutes I hoped not to lose but this is difficult ground. Descending to Sty Head was faster and easier than I expected. With jelly babies galore (thanks, Richard) and a bottle of carbs waiting with a Horwich club mate, Mark Sammon, I was ready for the last two big climbs and their corresponding big descents.

Pauline joined me briefly at the start of the 1200 feet climb to Dale Head, the final summit.  Time for the last of the carbs drink and time to find out if there is anything left in my legs. Having lost a couple of places at the start of the climb I got them back before the summit.

Only frantic shouts from spectators (thanks Tony & Christine) prevented me going wrong only yards from the finish but the final result was 171st place in 4:29:21 which put me in the top half of the field having taken 9 minutes off my previous best time.



Borrowdale 2009 winner Robb Jebb

Race Organiser “Scoffer” offering his congratulations to the winner Robb Jebb who has already won Ennerdale and Wasdale this year. Winning all three in the same season is a feat accomplished previously by only Billy & Gavin Bland.

1 comment:

  1. ran the borrowdale first in 1982 and for the next 5 years, very bad achilles tendon injury forced me to hang my reeboks up but now after a 17 year break pleased to say I hope to return for 2010 thanks to Saddleworth physio in Uppermill.