Cajsa, our resident trail shredder took part in The Fellsman last weekend (and then sprinted back for London Marathon cheer duties!). Here’s her report:
They say truth hurts. Savage beyond reason was I thought a clever marketing slogan to not take too seriously and therefor naively signed up for the inaugural UTS 50 as my season opener last year. I mean there's no way a 50 miler in the UK could be harder than one in the Canaries, or on altitude in the alps right? Right?!?! Well as I was scrambling a straight line up the ridge of Y Lliwedd with 48-ish off piste miles in my legs and 500 meters of certain slab drop death to both sides of me knowing I had yet another Snowdon ascent coming up after the next aid station (IF i survived getting there first) I had to admit to myself that YES in fact they could be much tougher, savage beyond reason to be precise.
Hard races bring people together like natural disasters or train cancellations at commuting time. You form unlikely bounds with the people around you facing the same extremities and together through a bit of raging and a lot of humour you solve the problem ahead of you. During the 17 gruelling yet amazing hours it took me to finish UTS last year (thats about 5 hours longer than those similarly profiled Canarian and alpine races took me btw) I had not only learned to rock climb I had also made new friends and one of them is to blame for why I found myself heading up Buckden Pike with a threat of -10 degree windchill echoing in my ears last weekend
THE FELLSMAN 2019 64miles / 4000 m
The Fellsman is basically a very long fell race, there is no set route and no markers to lead your way so in order to make sure that runners don't just opt for the fastest way back from the start in Ingleton to the finish in Threshfield they are provided with a tally to be clipped at the 26 checkpoints scatted around the up and downs of the Yorkshire Dales. How you navigate between them is entirely up to you. Some of the checkpoints can be reached by following main trails and veering off up the peaks whilst others will force you entirely off piste over otherwise private land. Mainly through bogs. And some more bogs. Aaaand some bottomless bogs … Being an old orienteering gal with the love for treasure hunting intact I was instantly intrigued when my fellow UTS survivor Antonio started talking about this race he was doing where everyone runs off in different directions at the start and you have to use national grid references to mark down the route on Ordnance Survey maps. I didn't even have to hear about the INSANE offering of food at the aid stations and the annual fanzine to hit that registration button back in January.
So last Saturday I said smell you later to the post race brew in my airbnb fridge and caught the 6.30 ultra transfer from the finish line to the 8.30 start of the 61st Fellsman. The night before me and my pack of bleary eyed adventurers had gone through a meticulous kit check (including FIVE long sleeved layers, thermals, water proof trousers, compass, 300 g of emergency food and so on …) where i was nearly deemed not allowed to start when failing to present 4 safety pins so it was with bags to match our heavy eyelids we exited the warmth and comfort of the coach and stepped out into the morning drizzle. After a visit to the QUEUE FREE (the bonus of ultra trails) female loo I met up with Antonio to smith some plans for the day and night ahead. I'm not usually one for intentionally pairing up but this was neither mine or Ant's goal race of the year and we were long overdue a catch up so why not have one over an extended jog across the Yorkshire fells?!
After a short introduction by the first ever Fellsman finisher we were off, and just like promised the field spread out in different directions leading out of the village and onto the single track taking us up the first and longest climb to checkpoint numero uno. This was the only time we had to queue to get our Tallies punched as 'what comes up must go down' and the technical and steep nature of the following descent helped to spread out the field.
Another reason why I knew It'd be okay to make a pact to stick together was knowing that Antonio loves a downhill as much as me and when we reached the end of the traverse and started heading down the rocks towards the second checkpoint i could hear a familiar WEEEEEEEEEHHHHH next to me! On the climb up to checkpoint three the course joins that of the 3 Peaks Race and for a while we were cheered on by spectators with cowbells. By this time the drizzle had turned into downpour and the wind was getting up so those "Go get It"-s from the onlookers were very welcome. When we reached the fourth checkpoint at the top of Gragareth Storm Charlotte was hitting the fells with full force and I felt a bit bad for making the marshals (they were just laughing at the weather though) reach their arms out of their bivvys to give us another tick in the tally. Up to this point the navigation had been pretty straight forward and we'd been able to see runners up ahead of us but with the clouds getting thicker and the route veering off the main trails it was getting increasingly more difficult to keep track of the path.
After making the mistake of trusting a couple of veterans running at pace with us and loosing a lot of time and energy being lost on a particularly soggy bog I decided that it was time to give the thumb compass a run for its money and dug out the map for the first time in the race. It took some time to convince Antonio that I actually had a hang of this orienteering malarkey but I soon proved myself by leading us on fast routes whilst avoiding the worst of the Yorkshire swamps to the next couple of checkpoints.
It was thrilling to realise how much of my old navigation skills had remained intact and I had so much fun trying to optimise our way across the moors that only when the rain became horizontal hail for a good hour during the climb up to Dodd Fell did i notice how crap the weather was. The checkpoints at The Fellsman are very different from one another, at the exposed peaks and remote fells there would be just a marshal hiding inside a one person tent with a clipper ready for the tally but the ones on the road crossings and near villages hosted 'all you can eat' buffets in heated tents.
After the Dodd Fell hail storm I started to feel cold so at the next big checkpoint we took some time out to properly refuel with some hot food and coffee and I dug out my waterproof gloves (one of the best pieces of kits i own) to keep the heat from the tent in my fingers over the next stretch.
This year one of the land owners did not grant the race directors access across Fleet Moss so a new diversion along a country road was enforced. I was dreading this bit before the race having really struggled with the tarmac diversion at TDS last year but after the last ten miles of off trail-ing through very boggy terrain it was a welcome respite to have some solid ground under the soles and get some sub 5 min/k's down! As we were hammering down the gravel to the next checkpoint half way up Middle Tongue the checkpoint fiesta started to catch up with me and when we had to say goodbye to the road i made a quick visit to what turned out to be a fox nest and did my dos next to a half eaten rabbit. OH ULTRA TRAILS <3. As we descended down on the last big checkpoint in Cray dusk was upon us and according to The Fellsman rule book we were now forced to be running in groups of minimum 4 fells(wo)men to stay safe. We were also told that we might be heading up to -10 degrees windchill on Buckden Pike so whilst waiting to be grouped me and Antonio put on our thermals and downed serious amounts of soup. Fifteen minutes after entering the Checkpoint and with four new buddies in tow we donned our head torches and started running up towards those promised sub zero peaks. It turned out that two of the guys in our group were locals and had recce'd the last 17 miles so I reluctantly gave up my role as navigator in chief and became the pace whip instead. As freezing fog swooped in over the dark fells it became clear that not even being a local would help navigating in zero visibility and whilst trying to make a short cut we lost our bearings somewhere on the top of Buckden. After a lot of combined compass action we eventually found our way back on the right path and this is where i probably started to annoy our new tribe members with my repeated "Hey guys, should we try a little trot?" to attempt getting hiking back towards running!
On the long and boggy (yes that word again …) descent from Wharfedale one of our new buddies hurt his knee so for the remaining ten miles of the race I gave up trying to push our pace and started chatting instead. The skies cleared up and as we jogged our way through the early night we gazed in awe at the ski above us whilst swapping race stories and sharing our left over snacks. At the penultimate check point we were allowed to be de-grouped and as me and Antonio were both feeling fresh we decided to say a 'catch you at the finish' to the rest of the guys and set off for a speedy final three miles down a country lane towards Threshfield. It was a new experience to finish an ultra with lots left in the tank and it gave me a heap of confidence for the looming longer races scheduled for this summer. Still though, nothing beats crossing a finish line after a long day out in the wild and once our group was reunited we shared big hugs and lots of laughs before hitting the sack (and that post race brew).
If, like me, you have a thing for maps and like steering off the trodden paths I highly recommend The Fellsman. It is a true adventure and on a good day it would be a stunning one as well. The organisation is flawless from the check in to the finisher buffet and i wanna give a big MEGA shout out to the eleven year old who running with a shepherds stick showed me and Antonio a much appreciated shortcut behind a village. Next year I have some other calendar clashing plans (ahem UTS 100) but I will definitely return to this race in the future, I have some serious bog-avoiding route perfecting to do!