Each year a fell running club volunteers to host the British Fell Relays. This is an event where clubs from across the country have the opportunity to come together and run as a team to test themselves against each other. Teams have 6 members running 4 legs; 2 individual and 2 paired, with one of the paired legs being a test of navigation (the others are always very well flagged).
The relays are always a great day out with the big clubs putting out their best runners to compete for the win. This year Helm Hill hosted in the Howgills, just south of Tebay. Carnethy (next year’s hosts) took the win for the men and the hosts took the ladies’ title. This year DFR put out two teams; a men’s team who finished 66th overall and a mixed team (3 ladies, 3 men) who finished 13th of 30 in their category.
Mixed Team Report
Members: Meghan McCarthy, Fran Blackett, Denise Tunstall, Steve Lumb, Martyn Farnsworth, Andrew Stimpson
Leg 1 – Meghan McCarthy
Leg 1 was an opportunity to go up what my sister and I used to call ‘the sucker-boot sheep hill’ when we were small because we didn’t understand how the sheep could stay stuck to the side of something that steep! The climb was calf-busting and the descent complete guesswork in terms of ankle-breaking stones lurking under the slippery grass.
Leg 2 – Fran Blackett and Denise Tunstall
This was the navigation leg. As we arrived in the event field the clag was definitely down over the tops of the fells which got the nerves going – this could be tricky. However, as we waited in the holding pen for Meghan to speed down the hill and into the changeover area the cloud began to lift. In the end, the cloud stayed high enough and the navigation was pretty straightforward. With such large numbers of people there was a trail of people the whole way round. However, we were careful not to fall into the trap of just following the person in front (they don’t always know where they are going!) and kept our eye on the map and our thinking heads on. As Andy was also on the same leg for the men’s team it was pleasing to compare our routes afterwards and see that our route was 400m shorter with 80m less climbing (I take any small win I can get in our household!). The ground was rough, tussocky and boggy with a few steep ascents and descents which tested the legs. As we ran into the finishing area we had expected leg 3 to have left already in a mass start (organisers took a last minute decision delay this) so it was a very last minute sprint when we saw Steve and Martyn waiting to be tagged!
Leg 3 – Martyn Farnsworth and Steve Lumb
Leg 3 was good fun but brutal. Anyone who knows the Tebay fell race knows the climbs. Basically this was a condensed version with all the climbs and descents and none of the flat bits!
Leg 4 – Andrew Stimpson
Andrew brought the mixed team home on the final leg of the day with a good run round the short but steep route.
Men’s team report
Leg 1 – Rory Woods
Rory had a strong start, in 2nd place for a short while! Positioning himself well for the first climb to avoid any traffic. In 50th place after the first climb and holding his position well on the descent to finish 51st and hand over to James and Andy for Leg 2.
Leg 2 – Andy Blackett and James Osborn
There had been a certain amount of pre-race negotiation between Andy and James. It was decided that if James had 2 beers on Friday evening and Andy had 3 we would be fairly evenly paced. However, Andy cheated and only had 1 beer meaning he was quicker out of the blocks than James. The nav leg has in previous years had some interesting route choice and some challenging navigation. This year it was very much a case of follow the leader with minor choices which either saved or cost a few seconds here and there. We set an aggressive pace on the first climb, James’ contribution to the nav was an out of breath ‘are you ok for me just to follow?’. Overall, we were well matched with James pushing on in the 2nd half as we passed several teams who had one member who looked to have broken down on the fell for one reason or another and leading a flat out – full beans – run into the field for the changeover to leg 3.
Leg 3 – Max Wilkinson and Dan Hoyle
Fast start, got passed on first climb to CP1, Max bringing up the rear, claggy and warm. Steady climb onwards to CP2, very steep descent to CP3 followed by hands and feet mega steep ascent to CP4. Long steady run off, passed by a few more teams. Steep climb to final CP5. Finish in sight in valley below. Sketchy, slippery bum sliding descent to finish. Handover to Tom. Dan towed Max around.
Leg 4 – Tom Dobbing
I was very cold even after warmup but decided to give it the beans on the way out, I settled down on the climb and soon warmed through nicely. The climb, steady at first, then super steep and then steady again. The ‘steady’ was an annoying gradient that didn’t quite let you run at times. Took 3 places back on the climb but unable to close any further gaps on the descent, which was a greasy steep one with little rocks ready to give you a good whack if you fell! Into the finish and whacked! About 5 and a bit K in 33mins.