The Fellsman – 60th Anniversary

Distance: 61.22 miles / 98.52km

Elevation: 12,258 ft / 3736 meters

Time: 17:45:59

On Saturday 27th April I took part in the 60th year anniversary of The Fellsman, a 61 mile ultra with 11,000ft of elevation which is organised by the Keighley Scout Service Network. The start line is in Ingleton and finishes in Threshfield, a small village that neighbours Grassington. The route right from the start takes you up Ingleborough and as you continue throughout the race, you summit Whernside, Gragareth, Great Coum, Blea Moor, Great Knoutberry Hill, Dodd Fell, Buckden Pike and Great Whernside, with a number of checkpoints along the way.

There are certain elements to this race that makes it tougher than most other races. For starters, you never know what weather you will be presented with on the day. I’ve heard the horror stories of heavy rain, gale force winds, snow, fog and freezing cold conditions, and to throw the miles of bog trotting into the mix, you can gather why this race is not your average ultra event. Luckily this year the weather was very kind and I was greeted with blue skies in the morning, cloudy in the afternoon and a small breeze. Only recently has GPS been allowed to help navigate around the route, but is still heavily reliant on self navigation with a map and compass as the route is not waymarked, and to make this even harder, the route takes you through private land that is only allowed access for the event, which means there’s no paths to follow. As I’m writing this out I’m asking myself why I chose to sign up in the first place, but I assure you that if you wanted to really challenge yourself, this race was a lot of fun and worth having a go at.

Friday Evening

I arrived in Threshfield around 6pm on Friday 26th and headed for the quarry car park that is used for entrants to keep vehicles until the finish. Very well signposted and plenty of space in the car park. They also allow campervans to stay at for the weekend which was my choice of accommodation, they also provide a portaloo on site. I took a leisurely walk from the car park to the Upper Wharfedale High School where the kit check takes place which is about a mile down the road, the school is also the race finish. I passed my kit check and headed back to the van to pack up my running bag ready for the race, heat up some food and get some sleep.

Saturday Morning

Andy kindly offered to drive up and take me from the quarry car park to the start line in Ingleton. The event offers a coach to the start if you don’t have any other way of transport. At the start line is where you register and pick up your Fellsman tally, which is a round tally that gets clipped at every checkpoint, they also hand you a dibber and a tracker for safety measures and also for family members and friends to track your progress.

Due to a technical fault at registration, the race was delayed from an 8:30am to a 8:55am start, but soon we were off and heading into the hills.

The first climb up to Ingleborough

The path up Ingleborough from Ingleton is superb. The views are amazing and the climb is quite gradual, the sun was shining and my legs were fresh and I was feeling very good about the race. I kept telling myself not to get carried away and join in to the mad rush of people darting off the start line, I decided to keep near the back and pace myself. Before I knew it, I was up Ingleborough having my tally clipped, then enjoying a quick descent down towards Whernside, which I was dreading as the climb seems to go on forever.

Just over 2 hours in and I was up Whernside which is an out and back. As you come back on yourself you follow the wall line until you meet a set of ladders that allows you to gain entry to the first section of private boggy land. This path then takes you down to the checkpoint at the foot of Gragareth. I took advantage of the grub supplied at the checkpoint and filled up my water, then headed to the summit. This was my first time at the summit of Gragareth and wow, what a view! The visibility was clear and you could see the Southern Fells of the Lake District, and in the opposite direction was Ingleborough and Whernside, just amazing.

Looking back at Ingleborough from Whernside

After Gragareth the route takes you along to the summit Great Coum and then drops off into the stunning village of Dent, which is about 19 miles into the race. Liv had driven up to see me at Dent where I took my 1st long break (about 10 mins), I tucked into a sausage roll, cheese and onion roll and some crisps then headed out towards the next fell, Blea Moor. You follow the Craven way out of Dent and eventually peel off across yet another bog as you straight-line it towards the summit, eventually reaching the top with wet feet. I got my tally clipped and made my way off the fell, following a scenic trail towards the next big checkpoint at Stonehouse, and they had pasta with sauce and cheese, nice!

After a sit down at Stonehouse, I followed the route up towards Great Knoutberry Hill via the Arten Gill Viaduct. The Great Knoutberry Hill section is an out and back to the summit, followed by a large section of navigation as you make your way to the Redshaw checkpoint. I was looking forward to reaching this section of the race as it’s a part of the Dales I’ve never explored before, and I will definitely be heading back, it’s stunning! As I approached the Viaduct the clouds turned grey and it started to rain, I thought I was in trouble but it soon passed and the clouds cleared again, close call!

Train passing over Arten Gill Viaduct

The section after Redshaw was a little bit soul destroying, as the route heads to the next checkpoint called Snaizholme, and to get to this checkpoint includes a large section of bog trotting, even after a dry spell leading up to the race the ground was still very much saturated. My morale started depleting at this point so I put my head down, kept on eating and slowly moved forward.

I soon arrived at Fleet Moss after passing the summit of Dodd Fell. I got a cup of a coffee and some cake then sat down for a little bit. The next section was a few miles of downhill road so I knew I could make back some time. The route follows Oughtershaw Road down into the village of Yockenthwaite, where you then climb Chapel Moor and Hells Gap, which are 2 small checkpoints before reaching the big checkpoint at Cray. The descent down to Yockenthwaite on the road lifted my spirit, I was making good progress and moving well. I kept turning around to take a quick look at the sun setting behind the valley, it was a glorious evening!

My morale was once again shattered by the horrible climb to Chapel Moor, a very boggy field which was hard to navigate, luckily another runner wasn’t too far behind me who knew the way to the checkpoint. By this time the sun had gone in and I put on my headtorch. My goal was to make it to Cray so I could get another cup of coffee and some more food, I was getting tired at this point. I made it to Cray and took another seat so I could have my coffee and put some layers on as the temperate dropped drastically.

Sunset in Yockenthwaite

Luckily once I made it to Cray, I knew this section as I ran it 2 weeks prior. 2 big climbs and a bit of bog trotting to go before I could get some sleep. As I climbed up Buckden, I started to feel nauseous and I couldn’t eat anything. The temperature had really dropped, the clag came in and the wind picked up, so all I wanted to do was summit Buckden and get down the other side as quickly as possible. All I could think about was the climb up Great Whernside, I couldn’t face feeling nauseous again, but just the thought of the climb was making me feel ill. I walked a lot of the section between Buckden and Great Whernside, plus it was dark so I had made a couple of wrong turns which made it longer. In the distance was the checkpoint at Park Rash, where I decided it was best to take a good rest before the last big climb of the race.

I arrived at the checkpoint and the runner in front had asked the team there for a hot chocolate, and that sounded amazing. I got my hot chocolate and grabbed some cherry cake and tried to forget about the climb ahead. Something just seemed to click after this moment, I filled my water and headed out and to my surprise I didn’t seem to be effected by the climb, I felt good! I got my tally clipped, then made my way off Great Whernside. I was moving well, passing Capplestone Gate and down to Yarnbury. I must have passed a good 20 people on that section! I think running the route before played a good advantage to this, I knew the lines and paths so I could just concentrate on running. Yarnbury was the last clip of the tally, I had all the checkpoints checked off, the last stop was the finish where I would see Liv again. I text her to let her know I had dibbed in at the last checkpoint and I was on the home stretch. The last section is all down hill, through Grassington, across the bridge and along to the Upper Wharedale High School where Liv was waiting for me at the finish line, and I finished with an elapsed time if 17:45:59, at 02.40am.

“That was tough” is all I had to say about that. I was exhausted, but so chuffed I made it to the finish, especially after battling a couple of rough patches along the way. I received my goodies (a medal and buff) then handed over my tally, before making my way to the chairs to sit and Liv went and made me a cuppa.

Still feeling very tender in my legs as I write this, I would definitely do this again. I really did enjoy the event, it was organised well, the food stations were spot on and the route was brilliant, except Snaizholme which is what first broke me. I would fully recommend this to anyone that really wants to test themselves, and I’m sure I will be doing the same next April, although I’ll be praying for the same weather again, I got very lucky this year!

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