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Crag Fell Handicap Fell Race 2023

Date: 09/12/2023

Distance: 2.5miles

Ascent: 1345ft

Organiser: Cumberland Fell Runners

Time: 00:38:50

Actual position: 29/48

Handicap Position: 30/48

Cuisine chosen: After Eights 

Route description:

An out and back route, the first 200 metres, are on flat(ish) track, before you start heading up the fell. The start of the route is rocky and narrow with two small stream crossings, before the path widens and becomes grassier and boggier. The final section is on gently sloping grassy turf, before you reach the turning point of the cairn. From here it is a mad descent on the same path you came up. Be aware that, due to the nature of the handicap system, there may be some very fast runners coming up behind you. A simple to navigate route, once you gain the path up the fell, you head straight up, with the only navigation being a right hand turn close to the summit cairn.

Race report

I learned four things from this race:

  1. How fun a handicap race is

  2. How fast my friend can descend if he isn't held back by me

  3. The lyrics to Carol of the Bells

  4. After Eights can grow stale

The weather was especially revolting as I drove to Ennerdale. Windscreen wipers at full tilt, as my 21 year old Nissan Micra got hammered by the wind and rain. I was warm and dry, but filled with the grim knowledge known by every haddock in chip shops across the world; soon, it would be me getting battered.

I signed up by a marshall's car, sheltering my registration form from the rain, looking up at the fell I would soon be ascending. There was little sign of it by the time I arrived at the starting point, with a curiously dense slab of cloud in its place, acting like the metaphorical understudy in a play called let's make Matt unhappy. Already, runners were being set off at 30 second intervals. Soon, my name was called and it was my turn to head off into the cloud. 

100 feet, 200 feet, 300 feet, 400 feet*. I rose swiftly, the terrain seeming to get steeper and steeper. I found myself glancing at my watch, growing slightly concerned with how achey my legs felt in relation to the amount of climbing I had done, when finally it happened. A small voice in my head pointed out to me that the first lyric in Carol of the Bells, which had been going round in my head since I heard it the previous day, was unknown to me. I knew the tune, and the vague sound the lyric made, but not the actual words themselves. I pondered a moment, humming the sound over, trying to fit words to it. “Hard cannonballs” was entertained for a time until I remembered that the next lyric mentions sweet in relation to the unknown lyric, and while cannonballs are certainly hard, I would doubt even the most die hard buccaneer would call them sweet. The conundrum raged in my head, as I grew oddly fixated on it. I added likely words into the tune, eventually settling with “Hot caramel”, which sounded correct and certainly ticked the box for sweet. Satisfied, I looked at my watch: 1100ft. I had managed to dither away 700ft of ascent. Such mid-run pointless conundrums are not unusual for me. I feel it is the only thing that keeps me running. My brain drags me away from what I am doing (being battered with wind and rain while running up a steep hill) and instead distracts me with a simple problem that I must solve, akin to a babysitter distracting a crying child with a set of jangly keys. 

*Feet of ascent, not how many pairs of feet overtook me

I reached the summit cairn. A few of the fast runners had passed me by this point, but no sign of my friend who had started around eight minutes behind me. While I would not disgrace myself against him on a steep ascent, I knew I stood no chance on the descent. I began to run down, and soon met him toiling up the fell, about five minutes behind me (which will be the first and last time that ever happens). I ran on, his cry of “don’t let me catch you” ringing sinisterly in my ears. In an embarrassingly short time, I denied this simple request (to be fair, he could have tried a lot harder to not catch me), as he came screaming past. I had never seen him descend like this before, only ever having seen him when he is limited to my pace. Instead, I watched, for a brief time, as my friend hurtled down, legs flying everywhere as he dropped like an apple that has just spotted Issac Newton’s exposed head. I continued down in a far more sedate manner, overtaking a few people and letting some of the fast runners past. As I moved from grass to the single track path, I was relatively pleased with just how grippy the incredibly wet path was. I trundled down in a series of half controlled gallopy leaps until I finally reached the flat track. I could see a runner ahead, my legs hurt and I did not want to try to overtake them, but I imagined the disappointment I would feel if they were to take the large bag of Quality Streets* as a prize, and I would have to drive home knowing that, be it for a bit more effort, I could be eating those delicious chocolates. 

*The order of finish was the order of choosing the eclectic mix of prizes

I sped up, and overtook the person ahead, before collapsing into the waiting arms of my friend*. Someone asked me if I enjoyed myself, I burbled damply that I was not quite sure, before waddling back to the car and getting changed. Back in dry (ish clothes) and no longer feeling like I had full body trench foot, I stood around for the prize giving. When my name was called out, I was disappointed to see no Quality Streets, but satisfied myself with a packet of After Eights.

*His arms were indeeding waiting, as was the rest of his body, just not for me to collapse into them

As I drove home, I pulled into a layby that I knew had mobile signal. I had to know. I Googled Carol of the Bells while opening the (what I now knew to be previously opened, slightly out of date and hastily sellotaped back together) box of After Eights. I reached inside the packet, confident that the high sugar content of them would make them basically immortal. I looked at my phone screen. The lyrics came up on my phone as I popped the chocolate into my mouth: “Hark how the bells, Sweet silver bells”. Nothing about caramel. They say errors come in pairs. Not moments after realising my lyrical error, I was disavowed of my perception of After Eight immortality as I found, what appeared to be a mint chocolate flavoured square of leather, masquerading as a delectable evening treat. I started the car and drove home, singing the correct lyrics to the song, and pondering whether to put the After Eights in the office.

A big thank you to Cumberland Fell Runners for the race

A fell runner running down a mountain
Midway through a game of charades where I had to mime: "affection" (Pete Trainor)

A pile of wet running clothes
My remains after I accidentally dissolved

A mountain with a waterfall on it
Crag Fell before it dissapeared

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