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Buttermere Shepherds Meet race 2023

Date: 29/10/2023

Distance: 3miles

Ascent: 1969ft

Organiser: Cumberland Fell Runners

Time: 01:00:54

Position: 55/63

Cuisine chosen: Chocolate Cake

Route description: This is a brutal, grassy ascent with little to no respite. With around 200m of undulating field behind you, you go through the field gate and ascend the grassy slope to Robinson. Little more can be said, you go up for 2,000ft, then you go back down again. About as simple as it gets...

Just don’t come last, just don’t re-injure yourself. The words were like a mantra as I drove towards Buttermere for the Shepherds Meet fell race. A short race, only three miles long from Gatesgarth to the top of Robinson and back, what could be more simple? Well, the addition of 2000ft of ascent over slippery grass, tussocks and mud as well as the fact that, due coming back from injury, I have not run up a hill over 200ft in well over a month, and longer since I last ran down one.

Registration for the race was deliciously low key. With no pre entry, around 70 runners clustered into a barn, surrounded by cows and sheep, to pay their five pound entry fee. All around me were men and women of all ages, mostly wearing club vests, chatting away, as they fumbled to pin on their race numbers. I joined a group of runners on a warm up, running to the base of the fell. Several kept going up, I idly wondered if they were going to run the entire thing. I stood with a group who had decided to remain. They were discussing lines of ascent, where people tended to walk, and the best route down. Information gathered, in ones and twos, we turned and jogged back to the start line. I desperately needed the toilet, but there was no where to go on this flat section of field, and I didn’t have time to go back to the barn, I mentally added to not wet myself to my aforementioned ambitions. Once gathered, the race organiser had everyone shout their race numbers out to confirm full attendance, asked us all to look after each other, and then set us off. My pace was slow, I had started near to the back, I knew once we reached the first ascent, the lack of hills over the past few months would really take a toll on my speed and the last thing I wanted was to hold anyone up on the narrow path.

We reached the gate and began to climb, I had never been this way up Robinson, always ascending either from Hindscarth or Newlands Pass, but from studying the race route this morning I knew that, once the ascent started, there was very little respite until the summit. As I climbed, I realised that my training while I was injured (climbing, swimming and slow trail running) had kept me relatively fit, but had in no way conditioned my legs for the brutal ascent. Every step was painful, and I began to wonder if I would even make it to the top. I felt vaguely embarrassed as my pace dropped ever further to barely more than a crawl. Still I climbed, the slow, pitiful hands on knees ascent of the suffering fell runner. I looked behind me a, the cloud had shifted and was swirling tantalisingly around the summits of the Buttermere fells across the valley. Soft light shone down and I was struck by the beauty of the scene.

Some time later, I saw the two lead runners, battling as they came down the same path I was coming up. They were soon past me, plunging down towards the valley, breathing heavily as they ran. Soon more runners accompanied them, coming in handfuls before becoming a more steady stream. Moving so slowly, I had worried about peoples reaction to seeing me. I need not have. While many said nothing, concentrating solely on a controlled, yet fast descent, those who did speak, were filled with encouragement. Finally, I reached the summit, rounded the pair of rucksacks that constituted the half way point and now it was my time to plummet down hill. I realised at this point that I had not been sure if I would make it. I was well aware that I could run the distance and the ascent, but to do so after so long away from the fells, and in front of all these very competent runners was another matter. Now, I had no choice, bar lying down like a angsty toddler until someone carried me down, but to complete the race.

I plummeted down like a cake dropped from a counter, a stodgy slightly out of control run that managed to gain me two places. Choosing a rough but direct line, I adopted the strange skip/gallop I had employed when supporting my friend on the second leg of Ramsay’s Round, as we battled through the thick tussocks of Chno Dearg. Down I ran and soon I could see the finish, tiny specs of runners below. Choosing the steepest route down, my foot snagged on a tussock and, and fell forwards, akin to something from a cartoon, my arms comically flailing as I hung in the air. I landed with only superficial injuries, before righting myself and continuing down. I reached the gate where I had ended the warm up before, before lurching like Frankenstein’s Monster through the fields to the finish.

I joined the crowd of finishers, tottering slightly after the quad battering descent. Again, no one commented on my time or position, both of which were unspectacular. Instead all I felt was a great sense of comradely. Of a group of people who, for whatever reason, had decided to come together to run up and down a fell. Their was no boasting of positions or times, it did not seem important, all that mattered was that you had turned up, completed it and been safe. What more could you ask for? A low key event, no medals, podiums or t-shirts, just 70 runners and a barn filled with cake.

Happy days.

a fell runner

a fell runner

a fell runner

a fell runner

A big thank you to Cumberland Fell Runners for the race

And also a big thank you to the 70 odd people who completely failed to point and laugh at how slow I was

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